Tag Archives: E-book Readers

Will Our Children Read E-Books?

The latest statistics tell us more kids are reading e-books.  But the progress bar has not advanced nearly as far as prognosticators expected or manufacturers hoped.  A Bowker executive, addressing a recent Digital Book World conference, reported on findings culled from a survey of about 1,000 teens and some 2,000 parents and caregivers of young children.  Among older kids, 19% have tried e-books but only 6% read them witn any regularity. As for younger ones, only 25% of parents even own an e-book reader.  Among children 7 to 12 only 13% read on e-readers and 11% on tablets.

Is that a bad thing?  Not necessarily.  Though more and more adults are adopting digital reading habits, they are encouraging their kids to read print books and in fact promoting something akin to Luddism, such as sending them to schools where no digital devices are to be found (see High-Tech Kids in No-Tech Schools).  At bedtime they will put their Nook or Kindle down and go into their child’s bedroom to read a print-book bedtime story. So  when it comes to e-books it’s a matter of Do as I say, not as I do. And though picture book apps, including stories that “tell” themselves without parents present, are great fun, they just don’t seem to have the same appeal as the warm body and familiar voice of mommy or daddy.

Schools and libraries do not seem to be tripping over themselves to promote e-reading either. One good reason is that the children’s print business is one of the few sectors of the publishing industry that are thriving, so there is a strong financial incentive for publishers to maintain the p-book status quo.

But children form their own opinions about e-books and many reject them for very practical reasons. Because mobile phones are the device of choice for teens, the small screen size and short battery life are deterrents to e-reading.  The price of e-readers is prohibitive for many kids, who get along fine with borrowing books from the library or from each other.  And speaking of borrowing, DRM restrictions on sharing e-books is another dampening factor for teens, just as it is for adults.

For years we have expressed skepticism that, due to their high distraction quotient, screens are the best medium for young readers (see The Medium is the Screen, the Message is Distraction), and (with the exception of autistic children), there has been little recent evidence to the contrary.   In a recent New York Times article, K, J. Dell’Antonia reported an observation by Lisa Guernsey of the New America Foundation’s Early Education Initiative that “when we read with a child on an e-reader, we may actually impede our child’s ability to learn.”

“Children sitting with a parent while an e-reader reads to them, Dell’Antonia writes, “understand significantly less of what’s read than those hearing a parent read. Researchers at Temple University, where the study was done, noted that parents reading books aloud regularly asked children questions about the book: ‘What do you think will happen next?’ Parents sitting with the child while a device read to them (like a LeapPad or some iPad apps) didn’t ask these questions, or relate images or incidents in the book to the child’s real life. Instead, their conversation was focused on how to use the device: ‘Careful! Push here. Hold it this way.’” (Details in Why Books Are Better than e-Books for Children)

Does that mean that the next generation will reject e-books?  Not likely.  But as research develops about the reading habits and learning and retention of children using e-books, we may see a greater balance between electronic and printed books than the e-fatuation that has us in its grips today. If we don’t – well, see Digital Distractions Producing a Nation of Morons?

Richard Curtis


I Don’t Care if My Kindle Can’t Bring Down a 747, I’m Turning It Off Anyway

Having been asked one time too many to turn his e-reader off before takeoff or landing, Nick Bilton of the New York Times took a Kindle to an independent testing laboratory and asked them to measure the actual electrical emission.

“When EMT Labs put an Amazon Kindle through a number of tests,” reports Bilton, “the company consistently found that this e-reader emitted less than 30 microvolts per meter when in use. That’s only 0.00003 of a volt.”

“The power coming off a Kindle is completely minuscule and can’t do anything to interfere with a plane,” the lab’s chief executive told him. “It’s so low that it just isn’t sending out any real interference.”

Yes, but what if many passengers are using their Kindle at the same time? “Five Kindles will not put off five times the energy that one Kindle would,” explained the lab’s testing manager.

So? What does your plane’s captain know that the managers of a prestigious testing laboratory don’t know?  He knows one thing: if you don’t turn your goddam Kindle off he’ll have you removed from the flight, and the F. A. A. will back him when you’re deposited kicking and screaming in the terminal whence you boarded.

For someone looking forward to landing in Paris the next morning, that’s a pretty compelling argument, and it trumps your miserable 0.00003 of a volt.

Disruptions: Norelco on Takeoff? Fine. Kindle? No.

Richard Curtis


Parents Draw the E-book Line at Reading to Their Kids

The Digital Revolution has created more paradoxes than a quantum physics think tank.  Silicon Valley parents sending their kids to schools that outlaw computers  (see High-Tech Kids in No-Tech Schools).  Elderly people who read faster on screens  than they do on paper (see Old People Do It Faster).  Children who don’t learn well on screens, except for autistic ones who thrive on iPads (See this video)   Students who prefer expensive paper textbooks to cheaper e-texts (see Surprise: Students Prefer Print Textbooks).

The New York Times’s Matt Richtel and Julie Bosman have produced yet another oddity: “Parents who themselves are die-hard downloaders of books onto Kindles, iPads, laptops and phones…. .want their children to be surrounded by print books.

“Parents also say they like cuddling up with their child and a book,” the Times team writes, “and fear that a shiny gadget might get all the attention. Also, if little Joey is going to spit up, a book may be easier to clean than a tablet computer.

“’It’s intimacy, the intimacy of reading and touching the world,'” said a parent who reads books on his iphone but print books to his daughter. “’I know I’m a Luddite on this, but there’s something very personal about a book and not one of one thousand files on an iPad, something that’s connected and emotional, something I grew up with and that I want them to grow up with,’” said another.

For Their Children, Many E-Book Fans Insist on Paper

Richard Curtis


Old People Do It Faster

The jury is still out on the effectiveness of reading on screens, especially among children. Some studies show they are too easily distracted by screens that tempt restless minds to to navigate away from schoolwork to emails, games and websites. (See High-Tech Kids in No-Tech Schools)

But for the elderly, e-reading devices such as the Kindle and the iPad actually accelerate reading speed. “German researchers found that elderly people read three times faster when using an iPad than a real book,” writes Nadia Gilani on Daily Mail Online. “The iPad’s screen was found to help them process the information on the page, even though the tablet’s LED screen has been criticized for hurting readers’ eyes if used over a long period of time.”

Tablets like the iPad were more effective than eInk devices like Kindle, the study revealed.  But when asked, the older crowd said they preferred printed books to gadgets.

Elderly people ‘read iPads three times faster than normal books’

Richard Curtis


Who Wins the War of the Reading Devices?

The proof of the pudding is in the tasting, and the proof of the e-book reader is in the reading.  Nick Bilton of the New York Times sampled numerous readers including that tried and true gadget called the paperback, and in  Deciding on a Book, and How to Read It presents his conclusions.

Reading one chapter on each device, he reached the following conclusions:

Kindle: “A joy in many respects…It is a dedicated e-reader, so you can’t hop off to the Web to look up facts…Kindle software works on almost every device with a screen and an Internet connection… [The keyboard] seems like a waste of space.”

Mobile phones: “Simple and satisfactory.”

Apple apps: “Big downside for many is that you can read them only on Apple devices…iBooks looks beautiful, with a design that feels more like a traditional book, with sepia-toned paper and stylistic typography, again, it is available only on Apple devices.”

Google eBookstore “Wasn’t quite as satisfactory as I’d had with the Kindle…its design felt a little too rigid and even clunky.”

iPad 1: “Too heavy and feels more like a dumbbell than an e-reader.”

iPad 2: “Lighter and feels snug in your hands… Both iPads offer an immersive reading experience. I found myself jumping back and forth between my book and the Web, looking up old facts and pictures… I also found myself being sucked into the wormhole of the Internet and a few games of Angry Birds rather than reading my book.” [Make up your mind, Bilton. Is iPad immersive or distractive?]

Barnes & Noble Color Nook: “Unlike Amazon’s device it allows you to surf the Web. It is a little slow, though, and that sometimes frustrated me…Like the Kindle software, the Barnes & Noble reading application is downloadable to several devices. It also offers some neat features that separates it from its competitors.”

Print paperback: “It took barely a paragraph for me to feel frustrated. I kept looking up things on my iPhone, and forgetting to earmark my page.” Obviously Bilton wasn’t familiar with the Floppatronic Fleeber, reviewed in these pages a while ago, but it’s my personal favorite way to read.

Notable in its omission from Bilton’s article is the Sony eReader, which may in itself be a statement of where that device stands – or falls – in the pantheon of choices.

Richard Curtis



Sheesh! We Just Got Over the Death of Books; Now it’s the Death of E-Readers?

“The e-reader’s days are numbered,” writes HuffPo’s Amy Lee. Despite millions of e-book readers sold in the last couple of years, Lee foresees obsolescence for Kindles and Nooks as tablets take grip and ultimately take charge.

Her surmise is drawn from prestigious technical and media research firm Forrester, who project that by next year tablets will outsell e-readers, and in less than four years there will be twice as many tablet owners as e-reader owners.

The reason is simple: history proves that that given a choice between a dedicated device and a multifunctional one, it’s multifunctional every time. “As the demise of the Flip camera suggests, consumers are increasingly trading single-purpose devices for multifunction gadgets. Especially as the price of tablet computers continues to fall, experts predict users will drop e-readers for tablet PCs that offer web-browsing and video capabilities alongside e-books.

“Even Amazon, which helped make e-readers and ebooks mainstream, appears to recognize the e-reader’s impending demise and is rumored to be developing its own tablet device. The Barnes & Noble Nook Color has already been modified to run Android’s Froyo software, taking it into tablet territory.”

Lee quotes another tech firm that relegates the future of e-readers to a niche. 

A niche!

We’re not sentimental about our Kindle but this is one prediction we think is dead wrong. The compactness and utility of Kindles and Nooks (the original Kindles, the original Nooks) can’t be matched by tablets. More importantly, book lovers love to immerse themselves without distraction in their books.  They like their dedicated e-book devices to be…well, dedicated. So we’re betting against the house on this one.  Niche indeed!

You decide whether or not The ereader’s days are numbered.

Richard Curtis


Free Kindle? Not So Fast!

For years we’ve been predicting a day when e-readers are so cheap it will make sense to give them away and simply sell the content. That day has moved closer with the announcement of Amazon’s dirt-cheap ($114.00) Kindle. But Dan Frommer, posting on the Business Insider website, thinks free reading devices are never going to happen.

“The biggest reason,” writes Frommer, “is that Amazon doesn’t yet have a proven business model to recover the price of the Kindle and make a profit on top of that.

“This isn’t like the mobile phone industry, where carriers are subsidizing the price of your phone by a few hundred dollars in exchange for thousands of dollars of high-margin wireless service over a 2-year contract. Or the printer industry, where you’re going to buy expensive toner for 10 years. Or the 4-blade shavers, where you have to drop $20 every time you want to shave with a clean blade.”

Uh-oh – sounds like Frommer is urging us to drop our Gillette analogy. Every time the subject turns to free e-readers we quote King Gillette, the safety razor mogul whose ingenious marketing motto was, “Give away the razor and sell ’em the blades.” (See Netbook Makers Try Gillette Razor Business Model)

Read the rest of Frommer’s arguments in Sorry, Geeks: Here’s Why The New Kindle Isn’t Free and tell us if you think we’ll ever see the Gillette model apply to e-book readers.

Richard Curtis


Watching Books

Watching Books

Book editors are not famous for being early adopters of technological innovation. But at long last, a decade after the introduction of the Rocket Book and Print On Demand, mainstream publishing has joined the Digital Revolution. A generation of mouse-clicking youngsters has swept into editorial cubicles and even old-timers who only a few years ago couldn’t distinguish between ROM and RAM are now fully wired. 

Manuscript Submissions via E-mail

One of the most significant reflections of editors’ comfort level with digital technology is their growing acceptance of email submissions of manuscripts. Until a couple of years ago the practice was discouraged and it still is, except for material solicited by literary agents and professional authors. But as editors recognize the competitive advantage of instant transmission of potentially hot projects, submission of emailed documents is becoming commonplace.

What do editors do with these documents? In many instances they print them. But the high cost and environmental wastefulness of printing manuscripts motivated editors to try reading books on desktop or laptop computer screens. Unfortunately, that didn’t prove very satisfactory. Though they became used to editing manuscripts on computer screens, they found that reading at length on desktop monitors or laptop screens was hard on the eyes.

Enter E-Book Readers

Happily, e-book technology matured just in time to solve these problems. Not long ago an editor told me she’d discovered that the Sony Reader was so perfectly suited to reviewing manuscript submissions that her boss purchased them for everyone on the division’s editorial staff. She simply uploads manuscript files and reads the book at home or on her commute to and from work. Recently I have heard many an editor rave about the virtues of the Sony (and to a lesser extent Amazon’s Kindle) as an editorial tool. They also speak of the “green” benefits of paperless transmission of texts. Authors and agents benefit too, thanks to savings on photocopy, printing, and mailing costs.

What’s Missing from this Book?

The blessings of submitting books by email are so obvious that it’s hard to imagine a downside. But indeed there are drawbacks and unintended side effects of this technological shift, and we need to acknowledge them. For instance, Word for Windows (the format of choice for most authors) displays typographical and grammatical errors in the form of glaring red and green underlines on text pages. This can be a serious distraction for editors hoping for a “page-flipping” experience (as your pitch promised). Conditioned as they are to spot and correct errors in manuscripts, they may find their eyes lurching from one red or green flag to another, requiring them to stop reading and ponder some solecism beckoning for attention on their screen. Too many lurches could make a critical difference in the decision to buy or reject a book. (Although current models of the Sony Reader and Kindle don’t yet employ spell- and grammar-check features, it’s a good bet they eventually will.)

Of far greater significance is the vast difference between reading text printed on paper and text displayed on a screen. The visionary Marshall McLuhan made us aware of the different temperatures of various media, and though he originally described television as a cool medium, if he were alive today I think he would agree that our society has become conditioned to think of screens as hot compared to print media. Thanks to television, the Internet, video games and computers, we have come to expect color, interactivity, instant gratification and a complete immersion of the senses from our screens.

Is That All There Is?

Reading text on a screen without sound, color, or movement, one develops the uneasy feeling that something is missing. We wonder, Is that all there is? I’m not a psychologist but it seems more than likely that we are bringing to text viewed on screens the same expectations we bring to television, movie and computer screens. Indeed, something ismissing! How can we not be disappointed – even, God help us, bored – when these blocks of words fail to stimulate the same intense response as a YouTube video? We are trying to extract a linear experience out of a nonlinear medium.

The fundamental appeal of books is their ability to transport us to the author’s world. The best books immerse us so deeply in that world that we become almost immune to distraction. But screens are breeders of distraction from the sort of commitment to thinking, reflecting, and imagining that books demand. Books are vehicles for ideas; one can set a book down and ruminate and process. Computer monitors, television sets, and e-book screens discourage reflection. Thinkers simply live in a different time zone from watchers.

It is not unreasonable to speculate that a lifetime of exposure (if not addiction) to media – indeed, to multimedia – may have compromised editors’ ability to judge books on their own merits. Rather it is tempting for editors to judge them in a context of entertaining audiovisual displays. As successive generations accustomed to being diverted by watching, rather than by reading, enter the editorial workforce, impatience with printed text is demonstrably increasing, as we can see in the sharp decline of newspapers and magazines. Books require a commitment of time and attention that we either don’t have or aren’t willing to give. The temptation to skip or skimp is strong. One editor confessed to me, “I tend to scan manuscripts on screen rather than read them the way I do a printed text.”

We must therefore ask ourselves whether instead of reading books on screen, we are watching them.

The Click of Fingernails on Keyboard

Agents pitching projects over the phone routinely hear in the background the click of fingernails on a keyboard. That’s the sound of the editor googling the author and surfing his or her website, amazon.com rankings, and BookScan sales figures. Doesn’t it stand to reason that if the editor’s first exposure to a book is on a screen, he or she may unconsciously rely on extrinsic factors when making acquisition decisions? If so, it places on authors and their agents the burden of making submissions more entertaining, and that is exactly what many are doing. To make sure that the editor’s first impression is a favorable one, a growing number of authors are enhancing submissions with such colorful embellishments as author photos and audio and video clips, websites festooned with hotlinks to amazon.com pages, sales spreadsheets, screen captures, review quotes, celebrity endorsements and other flourishes designed to stimulate editors’ audiovisual responses.

It never hurts for authors to be attractive and promotable, and no one in publishing is so naïve as to deny that publishing decisions are influenced by an author’s sex appeal, charm, showmanship, and other extrinsic factors. To utilize the mighty resources of the Internet in order to play up those factors is by no means deplorable as long we keep things in proportion. Which means that, ultimately, it’s all about the book. But as the publishing industry’s drift into the rapids of show business accelerates, we should not be surprised to see computerized pyrotechnics become significant if not decisive factors in the acquisition of books.

Nor will we be surprised to discover authors writing not to be read but to be watched.

– Richard Curtis

Copyright © 2008 Richard Curtis. This article is an expansion of one that originally appeared in the summer 2008 issue of the Authors Guild Bulletin under the title “Watched Any Good Books Lately?”

For an interesting piece about literacy and media, click on Literacy Debate: Online, R U Really Reading? by Mokoto Rich in the July 27, 2008 New York Times.



Free at Last! Kindle Could be Free at Last

Every year since 2007 we’ve trotted out our recommendation to Amazon.com that if they were smart they’d start giving Kindles away – on the condition that the recipients commit to buying X number of e-books. (See $99 E-Reader in Sight)

And every year our proposal goes ignored and we put it away for another year. Well, we’re trotting it out yet again, but this time it’s someone else with the same idea.  He happens to call it the cell phone or book club plan but we like our name for it: the Gillette Model.

King Gillette (that was his real name, apparently) invented disposal razor blades, whereupon he uttered one of the shrewdest maxims ever coined by an American businessman: “Give away the razor and sell them the blades.”

Kevin Kelly, formerly of Wired, has been tracking the list price of the Kindle for the last few years and, according to Chris Meadows writing in Teleread.com, believes Amazon could start giving the gadget away by the end of the year.

“It’s not so far-fetched,” says Kelly. “Prime subscribers tend to order more frequently since they don’t have to factor shipping charges in, and to shift their purchases away from other sources to Amazon out of a psychological need to ‘get their money’s worth’ out of that $80 they put up. If Bezos gives more people reasons to sign up, the added value overall could let Amazon give every Primester a Kindle and still come out in the black—especially if the cost of making them continues to drop. I’ll say this for sure: if I got a complementary Kindle plus streaming movies and no-cost 2-day shipping out of it, I’d sign up for Prime in a heartbeat, and try to talk all my friends into doing it too.”

Since the birth of the e-book revolution futurists have said that the tipping point would come when the price of e-readers dropped below $100.  In fact we reached and exceeded the tipping point when readers were priced at well over $100.  And we now have readers priced under $100 including one for about $50. So it’s clear we are heading for a device so cheap that the only sound business option is to give it away – but not the content.

Here is Chris Meadows’ provocative Could the Kindle be free by the end of the year? Just how clear is his crystal ball, do you think?

Richard Curtis


iPad Becoming Killer Campus App?

Last May we explored student use of digital textbooks and learned that they were not going over well. “Students around the nation are flunking the format,” we reported. “They want their paper books back. It seems that e-readers are okay for reading, but textbooks are seldom read immersively like novels, and so far the e-books can’t match the functionality of good old paper. And even when it comes to reading for pleasure, gadgets like the Kindle DX tablet did not fetch high grades.”   (See Students Give E-Textbooks a Failing Grade)

That happened BiP – Before iPad. We suspected that once iPad found its way into schools we might have a different tune to sing.  We do. Winnie Hu of the New York Times reports that a number of schools are not merely encouraging the use of iPads but are actually purchasing and distributing them to students.  “As part of a pilot program,” writes Hu, “Roslyn High School on Long Island handed out 47 iPads on Dec. 20 to the students and teachers in two humanities classes. The school district hopes to provide iPads eventually to all 1,100 of its students.”

At $750 a pop, that’s no small investment, but there’s a tradeoff for savings on the cost of paper textbooks and other traditional school materials, plus a less tangible reward in the form of better student performance.  The iPads “allow students to correspond with teachers and turn in papers and homework assignments, and preserve a record of student work in digital portfolios.”

Not everyone is convinced of either the financial or the educational value.  If a school wants to go electronic there are cheaper devices, but they’re not as sexy as the iPad, and besides, “about 5,400 educational applications are available specifically for the iPad, of which nearly 1,000 can be downloaded free,” writes Hu.

As for academic benefits,the jury is still out, as researchers and psychologists report that screens create distractions for students. (See The Medium is The Screen. The Message is Distraction) Focusing attention on the subject at hand, even with colorful, entertaining and interactive applications, is a problem, as is retention of information. “There is very little evidence that kids learn more, faster or better by using these machines,” Larry Cuban, professor emeritus of education at Stanford University, told Hu.

Despite unproven educational benefits, it looks like nothing is going to stop the iPad steamroller. The Times tells us that schools and school systems in New York, Illinois, California and Virginia have invested in iPads.

Richard Curtis

Every Blogger owes a debt of gratitude to newspapers and magazines. This posting relies on original research and reporting performed by The New York Times.