E-Readers are Dead! Long Live… Ebooks?

Seriously, people. As we see the usually flurry of post-Christmas articles about sales, and what is, or isn’t moving as fast as was predicted, I’m seeing more of the same. Ereaders didn’t sell as well as they did in 2013. Ergo, ebooks are a passing fad, and we can all return to our traditionally published print books now. Nothing to see here, move along, move along…

I’ve got two words for that. One I won’t say, I’m a lady. But as a kid on a farm, I stepped in it a few times.

The other word? Tablets. Well, and phones, but really it’s the same thing. How many people do you know who now carry a smart phone? Of the two of us in this room, I have one, he doesn’t (He does have a Kindle he carries almost all the time). Now, that’s a small sample. Let’s go a little bigger. According to Pew, almost 60% of Americans have a smartphone. You know what you can do with your phone? You can read a book. Lots of books, in fact. I have dozens on my phone. I have even more on my tablet. You know what I don’t have? A Kindle.

So perhaps, just maybe, the decline in ereaders is not the same as a dip in ebooks. I’d hazard a guess to say that most who were going to take the plunge into a dedicated ereader have done so. But there are a lot more who carry a tablet, or a phone, and you can do more than just read with those. I’ve seen it myself, a quiet moment, waiting. Standing in line, at the bank, the mechanic’s… and out comes the phone or tablet. Sure, sometimes that is to text (which is reading, just not (usually) fiction) or play a game, but many times it is to read. I know it is for me. Not only fiction, either, this is often when I read blogs, or comments on the few blogs I find safe spaces to read under.

Something that not many have been paying attention to is the younger generation. According to PlayCollective, 93% of children ages 2-13 now read an ebook a week. Most of that is being done on tablets, where color illustrations for the younger set are appealing. So kids are comfortable with this technology. Are they going to suddenly lay it down and pick up a hardcover? Have you ever held a tablet, and then grabbed a big book? Feel the difference? And you can’t do anything with that book, except read.

I had the pleasure of introducing my sister to my android tablet this winter when I traveled out to Oregon. Juniper is a wonderful sister, and mentally, she’s about able to handle pre-school-level work. I wondered if she might like my tablet, with the touch screen and interactive apps. I don’t have a lot of games on my tablet, and the first thing I showed her, she wasn’t interested in. Then I put a drawing app on, and showed her how to fingerpaint. Oh! Her eyes lit up, and she had a blast learning how to change colors (brush sizes will wait) and doodling on the screen with no mess (she’s not a fan of messes). For the rest of my trip, she wanted to know if she could have a ‘gadget’ for her birthday. Mom and I talked about parental controls (there are many, I know, and if anyone has suggestions, please share!) and apps that she could handle. She’s not quite learned to read, but we think that apps for tracing letters and doing colors, shapes, that sort of thing will be good for her. I am planning on sending her a ‘gadget’ for her birthday, with a pink case (shh! It’s a secret 🙂 )

I digressed into that not only because I wanted to talk about my sister, but to point out that we’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg when it comes to computing, tablets, and phones. The world, it is changing. Kids know what they like, and they seem to like these ‘gadgets.’ They also seem to like ebooks, as we are seeing what one news site calls ” a vibrancy and quickness around publishing that can be directly linked to the arrival of the ebook.” Other articles praise the expediency and convenience of the ebook, and point out it doesn’t have to be one or the other. You can have both ebook and print book.

That trip I took ? I flew from Dayton to Chicago to Seattle to Redmond (OR) and then back through Seattle to New Jersey to Manchester (NH) to Philadelphia to Dayton (and home, thank goodness!) in a ten-day span, with  my laptop, camera and all lenses, pentablet, and the tablet. The only reason I carried most of that was delicate, expensive equipment I wanted to have my hands on at all times. What did I use? The tablet. The batteries last darn near eight hours, it’s easier to handle during a layover or on a plane in cramped seating than the laptop, and with it, I could read, surf the web (during layovers) and even play games (I have cool ones for learning Spanish and Physics).

I’m not saying you should run out and get a tablet. I am saying that before we predict that ebooks are dead, we’ve got to look reality squarely in the eye. Publishing is not what it was ten years ago. It isn’t what it was five years ago. Readers find books differently, read differently, and frankly, they don’t care who published that book they are enjoying. They’d just like to find more like it.

Can we predict what’s coming? Maybe. Maybe not… we can thumb our noses at those who would have us believe the numbers traditional publishing is flashing before our eyes, though. Kristine Kathryn Rusch, always a voice worth listening to on publishing, wrote something I highly recommend the authors take a look at. She says, “In other words, all of traditional publishing from the introduction of the returns system in the 1930s to the early part of this century was based on educated guesses by the sales department in consultation with editorial. Not based on actual numbers. Not based on real sales figures. Not based on any kind of fact-based system at all.”

Tomorrow, I’ll be writing. Part of the day, I’ll be out of the house. But you know what? When you all comment, I’ll be able to reply with my trusty smartphone. And have little flashbacks to the kids being small, and a certain handy-dandy notebook. Speaking of commenting, when I get Juniper’s ‘gadget’ does anyone have recommendations for apps that would be good? We also need to be able to lock her out of settings so she can’t get in and change stuff, she wouldn’t know what she was doing. As my mother said with fond exasperation, she’d pay good money for a DVD player with childproof settings!


  1. Tough, designed for children, you can put parental controls on, has a warranty that covers freaking all.

  2. I’ve had three brief flirtations with e-reader devices: a Cassiopeia that was on of my first eBay purchases back in the 90s; a Blackberry that my oldest son bought me, so I would never be without a book; and a Nook that my wife bought me in 2011. The Cassiopeia died in 2001 after too much water exposure. I screamed and dropped the Blackberry in a drawer when I discovered what Comcast was charging me for using it (I think it still works). The Nook died a gradual death because I took it with me into the bathroom, where humidity eventually strangled it.
    But: I still read eBooks. In fact, that’s my single most frequent volitional behavior. I read them the same way today as when I first discovered Baen.com, and the Baen Free Library, which was sometime before 2003: I read them on my computer.
    Now, it is different computers; I’ve had three desktops and four laptops in the past ten years, and I managed to break them all after a period of time. So, stored on various hard drives crammed into corners of my man cave, I probably have six or eight copies of Mother of Demons and 1632. Since being forced into retirement in 2007, I no longer have to transport a laptop back and forth to work, but sometimes, even going upstairs gives me an opportunity to fall down, drop things, and spill water. Two simultaneously functioning laptops would solve that problem, as did having a desktop in my man cave and a laptop in the bedroom, but at some point in the past year, I managed to snag cables on my way out the door, and watched my last tower fall like Jericho.
    I still, however, have a use for books on paper. The Game of Thrones has been supplying my bathroom reading for about a year now, supplemented for a couple of days every month by a magazine when my copy of American Rifleman arrives. Because the scalding showers taken by my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after, trophy-wife Vanessa, the elegant foxy praying black grandmother of Woodstock Georgia. produce clouds of stem, the paper items emerge a bit crinkly, but certainly still functional, when their time in the loo is through.
    So,, my experience is that love will find a way, and I love to read, and even if I were to move to a shack with a public library on one side and a used bookstore on the other, I would still rejoice in the fact that you can cram thousands of boos into a tiny little space, and still have a surface left over to set your coffee cup. (Without using the cupholder installed in computers.)

    1. I love the way you describe your wife… and Yes, that is the way I feel about books, too. When I first discovered ebooks, in about 1999, I was reading on the computer, usually with a nursing baby in the other arm. You can’t read most paper books one-handed. Then came Baen’s Bar, and the Free Library… along about 2002, I think, I got my first Palm Pilot and discovered to my delight that I could load books on it. I haven’t been without a handheld reader since then, but our poor little house has more books than shelves, in spite of that.

      1. My guy did that. Unfortunately, it wasn’t secure enough for when he fell asleep in the tub one time. 😦 Sigh…

      2. Other’s buy XPeria Z’s, which handle up to light submersion.

        Nice phones & tablets, I’ve owned the ZL and Ultra Z (6.4″ phone) and swear by them.

        Sony makes nice hardware and unlike Samsung the extra software they add actually adds functionality and they don’t replace stock Android stuff that works fine. A pity they aren’t more popular.

  3. I find myself wondering whether Evernote is age-appropriate. But, if you do, be sure to get the Web Clipper plugin, too. I imagine a curious child surfing the net will find a LOT of interesting stuff she’ll want to save for later. And be introduced to the whole concept of a commonplace book.

    And, of course, you’ll install the KIndle reader app.


    1. I think maybe I need to make that clearer. Juniper is turning 35 this year (I can’t believe my baby sister is that old… sigh. I still remember the little blond ringlets!) she has never been able to learn how to read, although she can recognize some if not all the letters of the alphabet.

  4. Yep, Tablets are better IMO than the “one feature” ebook readers.

    I got my Tablet because I wanted a bigger screen for reading than the Nook Color and found others reasons to like my Tablet. [Smile]

    1. The other semi-critical think is, you can get a tablet for what you’d pay for a Nook or other ereader. In fact, the top end Nooks are now… tablets. Samsung Galaxy Tab 3s with Nook printed on them.

  5. I bought an original nook for reading. When it died I “upgraded” to a newer nook and now have a nook hd+ . The man reason for staying with nook is that I have 1800 books on it. I bought a kindle because I’d been reading through the kindle app on my prior nook and had acquired over 900 books there. I bit the bullet and bought the new inexpensive kindle so I would have a very small reader to carry around.

    I now have an 11″ MacBookAir, a smart phone, the nook and the kindle. I might finally have enough technology to satisfy any need. and about 2900 books to read or re-read.

    I hope you find the right “gadget” for your sister. She sounds precious.

    1. I have lost track of how many ebooks I have… so many. In all different formats, and scattered across the two computers and backup drives. But that’s a different post! Yes, it’s lovely to have so many options.

    2. Remember, you can get all those books and more onto a phone or Tablet. Just need to run the right apps to access your current collection.

      I’m a Kindle user primarily, but I’ve never owned their eReader, it’s always been the Kindle app on a phone or tablet (I’m not a huge fan of Android or iOS tablets, never got along with them as they’re too limited for that size device, my Galaxy Tab 10.1″ sits unused while I read on my XPeria’s. The HP Stream Win8.1 tablets on the other hand are nice and inexpensive, although the battery life sucks)

  6. Back when my laptops were well over four pounds each I discovered my first “e-reader”. An even then obsolete HP Palmtop computer that weighed about a pound, was the size of a small hardbound, and held dozens and dozens of e-texts.

    When it finally died I found another similarly sized unit that looked the same but was actually a Bluetooth keyboard and screen synced to my phone. (RedFly)

    The first real reader was a Nook Touch… E-Ink, paper white screen, MicroSD slot… and the ability to side load any epub file. When mine got crushed (while loaned out) it had about 700 books on it.

    Then came the revolution… A Sony Tablet S.. Android OS, 9″ screen…. just exactly the perfect size for a reader, with the ability to add the Kindle, Nook, and a generic reader app (FBReader is my fav)
    With that I could have access to to Amazon’s selection, B&N’s full e-book catalog, the vast world of Gutenberg, and the rest of the epub world.

    Sadly it died, was replaced with a bigger, better, faster Galaxy Note 2014 ed. The new tablet’s got a 2.5GHz quad core processor, quad core graphics processor, 32GB on board memory, and 2660×1650 resolution… faster than most laptops in fact… Making it a terrific Android device for almost every need… Especially with the pressure sensitive stylus and some amazing paint/graphics programs that turn it into a HUGE digitizer/drawing slate…

    Sadly; though, because at 10.1″ it’s just a tiny bit awkward for reading even in my oversized paws.

    There are dozens of Android devices from 6 to 12″ sizes that make terrific readers, drawing slates, GPS/Map readers (though the cheaper ones don’t necessarily have a GPS receiver) and most any other task I can imagine…

    Full retail on some are as low as $60… bringing them down to where younger folks can have a computer to learn to read on without any worried about a half grand investment in less than careful hands…

    Honestly, in the wee hours of the night when I can’t seem to sleep… I still miss my 6″ Nook Touch…

  7. The early e-readers didn’t work with my eyes. E-ink does, and I got an e-ink Kindle so I could read old books for free (instead of $$$ for out of print since 1900 tomes). But my eyes still do not like tablets or iPads. I can read on my (I fear soon-to-be-replaced) MacBook Pro, but not easily, so I stick with the occasional necessary PDF of articles and such. I understand the newer displays are a little different, but even so, there may be people like me who have to stick with e-ink and print books. (For academic research it is print all the way, because of the need to annotate and because the print copies are cheaper than the e-copies, when e-copies are even available.)

    The school just put a blanket ban on all wifi gadgets for the students UNLESS they can show they are using a dedicated reading program with a pre-loaded book. Kindle and Nook are OK, iPad, iPod, phones, all are off limits. I’ll be curious over the rest of the semester to see if the number of dedicated e-readers increases. Print book consumption has already doubled.

    1. I was the opposite and still favor reading e-books over print. My eyes would sorta lock at the focus range of a print book and take some time to readjust, so, thanks to an online friend and Baen’s Free Library, I started reading e-books in html and enjoyed the ability to make the text any size I want, and the screen/page feet away from my eyes so the “stuck” doesn’t stick. I found, after starting to need reading glasses, and finding a used almost as new copy of Footfall in hard cover, that I can now read a book without the after effects being as bad I used to get. I read on the Kindle app on my phone (recently made that text bigger … A bit annoying having to page so often but easier to read … less dyslexia) and at work either Baen online or Kindle web app for lunch time reading. At home I used to have the kindle windows app, but unless the latest attempt to download and burn win7 was successful I have only Ubuntu flavors so I used the web app but have my Baen stuff (I found Opera works best for html e-books) on hard drives, and a few of the CDs lurking about (Wind Rider and At All Costs iirc) plus a few on hard drive from Joe’s place. Though I must say, for just reading the Paperwhite and e-ink kindles are nice. I just have not gotten a feeling that I just HAD to have one.

  8. I’m still trying to get over the flagrant dishonesty of the piece that prompted this.
    Is the writer really that dense?

    First, you can’t talk about the number of e-readers being sold while admitting that the largest player doesn’t disclose sales numbers. (And no, you can’t extrapolate Kindle sales from Kobo sales.)
    Second, the number of units sold “being flat” on a durable good represents a growing market.
    Third, sourcing your report about e-books and e-readers from a retailer of physical books wouldn’t seem to be the most obvious thing to do.
    Fourth, it does not logically follow that if sales of physical books have increased by 3%, then sales of e-books have decreased by a like amount.

    1. There was a whole lot of fail in some of the articles I found. Either the writers are dense – entirely possible – or they refuse to look beyond the accepted wisdom and challenge their own conformation biases.

  9. saying eBooks are dead because eReaders aren’t selling like they once did is like saying the internal combustion engine is dead because Chevy isn’t selling as many cars as it once did. It’s just stupid to think that way.

    Like you pointed out, many people read on devices other than a dedicated eReader. Also, eReaders don’t need to be replaced very often. I’m still using my original Nook Simple Touch from several years ago when it first came out. I expect to continue using it for many, many years to come.

    My 4 year old has been playing with my wife’s Nook Tablet since she was about 2, when we got my wife a Nook HD. She really enjoys the drawing apps and plays with letters quite a bit. She also likes watching movies (I ripped several animated shows I had recorded onto DVD from the DVR) and listening to music. She also likes the read along books through B&N. One thing I liked about the Nooks (well, until the Glowlight) was the microSD card slot for expanded memory, so I could put a whole bunch of stuff on it without eating up onboard memory.

    1. Exactly — if sales are flattening out, it’s because we’re getting to the point where most of those who wanted an e-reader have an e-reader. But that’s a Good Thing. A lot of folks forget that, especially when it comes to Amazon, it’s not about selling e-readers — it’s about selling e-books. And an e-reader provides a damn fine sales tool for e-books 😉

      Of course, the Terminally Closed-Minded in tradpub see this slacking off as a sign that we scalawags have finally given up on this horseless carriage fiddle-dee-dee and are ready to come crawling back to buy proper buggies…

  10. You can pry my e-reader from my cold, dead hands. Seriously, I think there will always be a market for them. And yes, I have a tablet, thanks. I just prefer to read on my ereader. Less distraction, and easier on the eyes.

    I think most people who have them, don’t feel the need to upgrade, and you’ll see a steady stream of supply and demand, but no more big upticks. No big deal. Kindle isn’t dead.

  11. Just as an aside, I dearly hope my other kids grow up to feel the way about their sister, that you feel about yours.

      1. What I don’t think any of us realized — not even me until a few years ago — is that she’s only ‘naughty’ when she doesn’t feel good. It makes me sad to think of all the years she’s spent not feeling good, before we finally figured that out and started doing something about it.

        1. Mom, I’m talking about the moments when she would do something with that twinkle in her eye that she knew wasn’t allowed. I don’t recall ever having a problem with the temper tantrums, that ‘felt’ different. She can do mischief, though!

  12. I know that a lot of people are handing off their old dedicated e-readers, for tablets– and you can get a “good enough” tablet for less than seventy five bucks. If you’re willing to shop around, you can get one for $25 after rebate. (with a “free” year of a horrible antivirus that you have to cancel at month 11 to avoid being charged $50….but I can do that for the joy my kids have with that stupid little thing.)

    There are a ton of free aps, and I highly suggest using Amazon’s ap marketplace because the reviews usually say “this has horrible permissions, avoid it” and other sensible reviews.

      1. Alright, this’ll be link-tastic, but here’s stuff:

        It’s a pretty. You touch the screen, colored dots of light group there. You let go, they fly around. How you touch, tap and drag changes it….kind of.

        Drawing, but instead of picking colors you pick colored backgrounds.

        Letter drawing, general drawing.

        Match the sound to the animal that made it.

        More advanced letter tracing, get a rain of animals if you get it right.

        Animal matching memory game with pictures.

        Simpler matching game with drawings.

  13. FWIW – if you are thinking about converting from a nook to a Kindle and worry about the existing books being in the wrong format. you can always convert them with Calibre. If open-source (i.e. free) and converts between pretty much any format out there. My wife is a Kindle user, and I started with a Nook. So we transfer a lot of books this way between us.

  14. With the kindle app you need to be careful, I have found that the one for my phone anyways stopped syncing. I can’t even access the books that were on my phone. Un-installed, re-installed: nope, nothing, nada.

    Talked to tech support, explained everything, ran them through the steps I took which were what they were going to recommend… And the answer was a rather honest and charming ” Sweetie, I got nothing.”

    I have Kindle app for the PC thankfully. 562 books and expanding every day.

    1. I had similar problems after one of the updates. Caused me fits.
      The more recent updates fix the problem, but if you spent much time trying to make it work, you might have to delete the app, remove the device on the “manage my devices” amazon page, and preform a clean install/registration.

    2. Does your phone have anti-virus? And have you tried manually updating the phones?

      I had to fight for WEEKS to get mine to stop updating all the time– chewing up my data, wouldn’t stick to wifi.

      Can you describe the “stopped synching” a bit more, and what kind of phone, and what phone company?

        1. That sounds like your phone is “helping” you, then– Unfortunately, I don’t know Motorola products. 😦
          Maybe if you go into your data usage and make sure that it’s not set to block Kindle, and then update your virus protection…?

            1. The only smart phone I’m familiar with has a setting down below the record of usage, and it’s got specific programs– if mine’s set to “maximum energy efficiency,” the wifi will randomly turn off and/or disable, and you can only find what it disabled by actually looking at the programs below *and* checking to see if the wifi is actively connected to a source. (Example: it will show that it’s turned on, but then when you tell it to scan for networks it says it’s in sleep or power save or something.)

  15. I love my Nook for reading (the eInk is easier on my eyes for long reading than the glow of the computer screen) and I use my Chromebook for nearly everything else. A tablet would be nice, but I wanted something with a real keyboard for typing on.

  16. I’ve had a Nook for quite a few years and it’s starting to fail. My husband got me a Galaxy S5 (??) for Christmas and it came with a little tablet for a dollar or something. The tablet *also* has a phone number, I can surf the internet, listen to music, and read my e-books. The screen is probably about 50% smaller than my Nook screen, but way bigger than my phone and I know people read books on their phones (crazy!). I have also read e-books on my computer (on my enormous screen) for years longer than I had my Nook, probably from the first time Baen offered them for sale.

    Will I ever get another *reader*? Probably not.

  17. eReaders are dead? Looks to me like the people writing those articles have zero comprehension of how economics actually works (well, I’m not surprised, it seems all of traditional publishing has no idea of how economics actually works!) – if you’ve got neat new tech the sales will go up and up for a while until you hit near-total market saturation and the demand levels out because everyone’s already got one and the only “new buyers” are the kids coming of age to be trusted with their own electronics. (And that’s not even going into the multi-function tablets that people read with nowadays, too.)

    We have a Kindle, Android tablet, and a pair of smartphones in the house already, for instance, so no need to go out and buy another gadget this year. I do still tend to use the Kindle for ebook reading rather than the other devices. (Sorry, no clue about child controls – don’t have any kids yet.)

    BTW, I wanted to complement your sister’s artwork – it showed up in my feedly but I don’t see it on the post. I may be biased due to “favorite colors” but it certainly looks just as good as (or better than) any piece of “modern art” in a museum!

  18. This is like telling a tire dealer that it’s time to panic because new car sales are down.

  19. I’ve read that computer sales have been pretty flat for the past few years. Obviously typewriters are on the verge of a major revival.
    I like the quote that paper book sales will be at least 4x the sales of ebooks when the other article states that ebook sales are 20% of the market (or 1/4 the sales of paper books. Math is hard). I still think their prediction is wrong.
    I read ebooks on my phone and tablet, but I still prefer my Kindle because the e-ink doesn’t tire my eyes the way that LCDs do. The major advantage my phone has is that it’s always with me. When I get held up at the doctor’s office, I can use my phone to read, but when I get home I still go back to my Kindle.

  20. I read ebooks. On my big flat monitor while I’m feeding the baby. On my itty-bitty cell phone while I’m waiting for the mechanic to finish doing stuff to my van. The computer monitor is easy to read on and I’ll use it if I’m at home. The phone is handy and multipurpose. Why would I want to carry another device?
    I still prefer paper books. I don’t exactly trust things that exist in electronic form to stick around properly. Maybe it’s the frequent power outages . . .

    And my first reaction was “Isn’t it cute that Cedar and her sis have the same name?” Because where I live the local term for junipers is cedars.

  21. Just pondering DVDs — I know you can buy extra remotes or replacement remotes for quite a few DVD players. Get an extra remote, then either remove the extra keys and tape over them, or perhaps just put the whole thing in a box and leave holes to access the necessary buttons (on/off, play/stop, eject?). Seems like a possible solution to that childproof DVD question (although part of the question may be just what does the child manage to do now to the players — e.g. pushing it off the TV pedestal when they don’t like the show requires a somewhat different solution). But if the need is some way for them to play it without wandering into the extra menus and functions — a simplified remote might do the job?

  22. This is a great post–most notably for bringing up what other articles haven’t been saying. How we can read ebooks is diversifying, in ways that the articles can’t predict. I often switch from a hardback of a classic to an ebook version (so I don’t damage the spine hauling it across town), so I can read it on the train, or on my breaks at work. But I do it on a PC, Kindle, and my smartphone.

    As far as Alphabet apps, most of them are pretty good, but I’d avoid the ones put out by Lakeshore. They’re pretty buggy (had to delete them and do a hard reset to stop my iPad from crashing every 5 minutes.) If you want specific suggestions, let me know. I teach English to her age range in Japan. 🙂

  23. As far as an Android tablet with strong parental controls, I’m a fan of the Nabi-brand tablets, primarily the Nabi 2. Has access to anything in the Google Play store, some Nabi-centric apps, and has the strongest parental settings I’ve seen in anything. I have a couple for my kids, and I know a lady in my neighborhood got one of them for her brother (20’s, developmentally at a second or third grade level), and I see him with it at the park all the time.

    I’ve seen them thrown, dropped, and abused with no issues resulting. They come with a red bumper (you can buy them in different colors/sizes) and the back has attachment points for design tiles.

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