E Readers vs Books: How Smartphones Have Changed the Way We Read

Among the sports and pop culture set, Grantland’s writer Bill Simmons is sort of an arbiter of what’s in. So I took notice of an innocuous line in one of his columns about the Summer Olympics in London:

“Every time I feel guilty about not seeing enough, I remember that I spent so much time on the tube, I actually finished two iBooks on my iPhone.”

Two books?! On his iPhone?! I read the New York Times on my phone, but hadn’t thought to dig into a novel during my morning commute. (Disclosure: I read books both in print and on my Amazon Kindle.)

Turns out, Simmons isn’t alone. E-readers are en vogue and small screens which are becoming more prominent as apps, like Amazon’s Kindle, are being developed for computers and smartphones alike.

A study released in October by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project offers some illuminating data: 29% of adults own a tablet or e-reader, and 41% of tablet and 35% of e-reader users, respectively, report reading more since the advent of e-content.

As the publishing industry undergoes significant changes with mergers, chains like Borders being shuttered and Apple and Amazon emerging as key players, what’s clear is this: People are reading as much as ever. The format of the book, however, is changing, for reasons ranging from ease of access to other conveniences, like being able to read in bed.

Catherine Walsh, a 20-something in Washington, D.C, is an avowed e-reader who shared some thoughts on the way her reading habits have changed with emerging technologies.

“I read almost all my books on my iPod,” wrote Walsh. She said it's because, among other reasons, it allows her to “curl up with my iPod under the covers and be comfortable without moving around too much to flip pages.”

She even suggested a new slogan for Apple: iPods, the ultimate in lazy reading.

Really, though, it’s less about laziness than it is about practicality. JK Rowling’s more than 600-page novel, The Casual Vacancy, is the current title being read by Walsh’s book club. By reading on her iPod, Walsh, who commutes by bike and bus, is spared having to carry the heavy hardback version, a complaint others in the book club have lodged.

“Another way it's super convenient is that I can whip it out anywhere and read, even just for a few minutes,” Walsh wrote. “I go through a lot more books on my iPod because of that.”

Walsh adds, however, that she still reads graphic novels and comic books on paper because it “wouldn’t be the same on my iPod.”

Through Simmons and Walsh, backed by Pew, it’s easy to conclude the reasons for e-reading are emblematic of a new generation of readers who want things fast and easy, yet cling to a voracious appetite for the printed word, even if comes backlit by the glow of a screen.

More broadly, they’re representative of a society eager for innovation and technology that makes their lives easier.

It all means reading’s here to stay, and so too, are e-readers.

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