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TECH 101

The Pleasures of Reading—Electronically

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An upcoming vacation will allow you to relax and sit by the beach or a mountain stream, and you want to pack something to read. Because you can only bring so many books on the plane or in the car, you need to decide which books you’re most likely to read.

However, with an electronic reader, or e-reader, such as Kindle, you can store as many as 2,000 to 3,000 books on your device—a challenge for even the fastest reader. E- readers also give you the ability to download books on an impulse. While traveling through Ireland, for example, you become interested in the country’s maritime history and can’t find a print book in the local bookstores or maybe you’re out in the hinterlands away from the towns. As long as you have a wireless connection, you can find a book online and download it to your device.

One of the advantages of an e-reader over a paper book is that you can adjust the size of the type, the font (type style) and the brightness—helpful for aging eyes. A disadvantage is that it has to be recharged, unlike your favorite paperback that doesn’t need batteries.

There’s no doubt that electronic books, or e-books, are becoming an accepted and popular way to read books. By 2014, 50 percent of American adults had an electronic device dedicated to reading, either an e-reader or a tablet. By January 2011, e-book sales at Amazon had surpassed its paperback sales. Although in the overall U.S. market, paperback book sales are still much larger than either hardcover or e-book, at the end of the first quarter of 2012, e-book sales in the United States surpassed hardcover book sales for the first time (from “E-book,” Wikipedia). Today, some books are being published only in the e-book format.

You can read electronic books on a smartphone, tablet (such as iPad) or a dedicated e-reader such as Kindle, Nook or Kobo (a Canadian-based company). A tablet offers more uses, including checking email, while an e-reader (or e-book device) is often slightly smaller, has better readability in sunlight and a longer battery life. E-readers generally cost anywhere from $100 to $200, depending on the features.

E-books can be considerably cheaper than paper books, ranging in price from $1 to $10, although current best-sellers can be more expensive. Hardcover books retail for around $25, paperback for about $10 and mass-market (think mysteries) for about $8. If price is your main factor, you can get paper books used (from Amazon or your local book seller) or for free from the library, although there may be a wait for the latest blockbuster.

E-books come from two main sources: Amazon (Kindle) or Barnes & Noble (Nook).

Kindle is one of the leaders in the field, arriving on the e-reading scene in 2009. Its latest e-reader, the Paperwhite, offers clear text and is glare-free, even in direct sunlight. With free cloud storage, you can read your e-books on a variety of devices that can download Amazon's Kindle app—for example, from your Kindle or your smartphone. Using the Family Library feature, you can share Kindle books. A new feature, About This Book, gives you information about the book you're reading, its author and more.

The Kindle Store has the best e-book selection with the best prices. You can also subscribe to magazines and newspapers, and Amazon Prime users can borrow books for free from a list of over 350,000 titles. Amazon's Kindle Unlimited service gives you access to over 700,000 titles for $9.99 per month.

Because Nook is a product of Barnes & Noble bookstores, the e-reader can offer features that online businesses like Amazon can’t. With Nook, customers can take advantage of in-store customer service, Nook Nights group training, free in-store e-book reading and other community-centered events. Its latest product, GlowLight, has many of the same features as Kindle’s Paperwhite, including clear text, good lighting and various fonts (type styles) to choose from. Beyond that, Barnes & Noble has a new recommendation engine for browsing books, with categories that include Books to Talk About, History Buff and Crossover Teen. You can buy or download (when free) from any of 3 million books, and you can also subscribe to newspapers and magazines.

A more recent e-reader is the Kobo, from Canada. Its latest offering is the Kobo Aura HD, which has similar features to the Nook and Kindle. Its Percentage Read tells you how far you are in the current chapter, along with an estimate for how long it will take you to finish the chapter, how long the next one is and how many hours are left in the entire book. For those who like reading in the tub, some versions of the Kobo e-reader are waterproof.

Although the iPad is not a dedicated e-reader, it includes a built-in app for e-books.

Several websites offer free material, including Project Gutenberg, which has more than 49,000 complimentary e-books. Free-book websites frequently offer books that are no longer copyrighted, such as Arabian Nights or Jane Austen’s works. Some free-book websites also promote self-published books while trying to sell you a package to publish your books for a low price.

Many libraries offer e-books for loan. Be aware that, because of library e-books’ format, Kindle is more limited than the Nook or Kobo when downloading library books.

Whatever you choose, you can’t complain that there’s nothing to read.


“Ebook Readers,” PC Mag

“E-Books Vs. Print Books,” Aug. 14, 2012, Investopedia

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