Dedicated e-book readers are heading for extinction

Tablet computers are displacing e-readers, but print is still king. Photo: (RT) tablet computer

DOTHAN, AL, April 11, 2013 — It’s not quite time to say good-bye to your Kindle, Nook or Kobo reader, but the day is coming soon when dedicated e-book readers may go the way of the dodo bird. A new survey by the Book Industry Study Group shows that 44% of e-book users prefer a tablet computer over a dedicated e-reader, an increase of 7% over the previous year. Why settle just for e-books when your device could also entertain you with TV shows, movies and video games?

It wasn’t all that long ago that the book industry was fairly immune from the near daily changes in digital technology. While Apple, Microsoft and others fought for dominance in the computer market, book lovers could still find solace in browsing through a brick and mortar store to find just the right volume to curl up with on a rainy day. The only decision necessary was which title to pick, with no worries about what kind of device to read it on.

SEE RELATED: Amazon grows its book retail empire with the purchase of Goodreads

Digital publishing is changing the entire reading paradigm. Up to now, publishers have tried to emulate books with their new electronic devices, but younger readers and technology designers are pushing to get away from the print model entirely. Tablets and readers open the possibility of eliminating the codex-based use of pages, for example, and replacing linear reading with non-linear, modular text formats.

In other words, a novel would be radically different if you could determine what a character says and does. That kind of interaction would move fiction closer to the format of a role-play video game, and perhaps the two formats will one day merge into one. There is also an opportunity to introduce video and sound into works of fiction, moving novels closer to a theatrical movie format. Whatever direction technology takes, for better or worse, publishing is changing forever.

E-books have a long way to go to dislodge print books from the sales charts, but they are gaining fast as the dominant format for various fiction genres. Publishers need to put more pressure on the technology industry to slow down the changes and educate young designers about how real people use real books. Part of the appeal of print books is that they can be kept for generations, traded, loaned to friends and, above all, don’t require batteries or a reader device.

It was once said that the problem with paper is that it is “too good.”  So why is the computer industry working hard to replace it?

Quick Takes

Can you say “self-published?”

R.R. Bowker is one of the keepers of statistics for the book industry. They report that in 2002 there were a total of 215,000 new book titles and editions published in print, versus 32,000 “non-traditional” (digital and other) titles. By 2010 the number of new print titles rose to about 328,000 titles, while “non-traditional” new titles skyrocketed to 3.8 million.

BEA moves up start date
The granddaddy of book shows is the BookExpo America conference, which, this year, will be held at the Javits Center in New York City from May 30th to June 1st. The date was moved up a week to take advantage of cheaper hotel rates in the city, but it still doesn’t help the problem of trying to get a cab at the Javits Center. Go to for more information on the show.

SEE RELATED: Independent bookstores are making a comeback by not selling books

Book tour or campaign stops?
Simon & Schuster will publish a book by Hillary Clinton, detailing her years in the Obama Administration, in June 2014. The Associated Press reports that her book tour schedule will be closely watched to see if it coincides with campaign states needed for a possible run for president in 2016.

E-books that talk
We’ve not heard a lot from AT&T in a while, but they are back with a new text-to-speech technology called StorEbook that can add a natural sounding voice to e-books. Primary use will likely be in children’s books for character voices since kids really dislike hearing a big bad wolf sound like a computer voice. To see StoreEbook in action check out their YouTube video at:

Same-Sex title hits number one
Lover At Last
by J.R. Ward made it briefly to first place on the USA Today Bestselling Books list, and is hovering around 3rd and 4th place on the NY Times list. The book is a same-sex romance featuring vampire warriors and is 11th in a series started in 2005. Despite that accomplishment, Game of Thrones remains the series to beat on almost all bestseller lists.

Publishers and Common Core
Random House sponsored a conference on the impact of Common Core curriculum development on publishers. Speakers painted a rosy picture of the benefits of Common Core, which has already been adopted by 46 states. Not everyone is happy with the program however, and opponents point out that it includes progressive liberal ideology that is counter to traditional American standards. Stay tuned.


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Rick Townley

Rick Townley was a bookseller before switching to electronic publishing with The New York Times, Reuters, Grolier and others. He is the author of a humor book, For Boomers Only – Exploring Life in the New Millennium, a supernatural novel, Stepping Out of Time, and numerous short stories. In addition to contributing to the Washington Times Communities, Rick is working on a fiction series called Stigma and resides in southern Alabama with his 7-year-old granddaughter, Chloe.


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