With the release of the iPad this weekend, much attention is again drawn to electronic books, a social innovation that is shaping how and what we read. An increasingly popular way to read with an estimated one million plus e-readers sold, the iPad joins the market of other popular devices, including the Amazon Kindle and the Barnes & Noble Nook.
Only a small portion of American bookbuyers buy and read books electronically, but that number has been steadily on the rise. Studies show that most readers and frequent book-buyers still prefer their books in print, but as people grow more comfortable with reading digital texts, more consumers do seem willing to try e-books.
Even if you don't own an e-reader and/or aren't confident that it's the right technology tool for you, there are several other ways in which you can read e-books:
Computer screen (You can download files as PDFs or TXTs or in other formats depending on the software you are using)
PDA/smartphone (There are multiple applications you can download and install)
paper (Print it out!)
If you're not certain you want to invest in an e-reading device like an iPad -- or even if you already have -- here are some resources where you can find free eBooks. This is not only a good way to save money when testing to see if you like reading e-books, but it's a nice way to read "the classics," many of which are freely available in the public domain.
- Project Gutenberg 30,000 free books (also available through the iBookstore)
- Google Books
- Amazon Kindle App
- Barnes & Noble
(Another source for free e-books, although not to everyone's taste I realize, are the iPhone and iPad Comics Apps Marvel and ComicsX)
As a book lover, I have resisted e-readers, preferring to have the paper-bound one in my hands. Having gone to graduate school to study literature, I have had a hard time imagining a world without the printed word, without "the book." (I also have a hard time not taking notes in the margins) But as I find myself spending more and more time reading online (reading blogs, reading the news), I've become increasingly comfortable with digital text. However, this type of reading is quite different, I would contend, than the type of reading I do with a book, physically, in my lap. On a computer, I tend to multi-task and follow links, not reading with the same focused and solitary concentration that a book gets (or supposedly gets).
How will this new form of reading change how we think about books -- both those delivered in print and electronically?
Have you tried e-books? What are your thoughts? How will a social and technological innovation that shapes how we read shape us in turn?