An article appeared this week, one that sagely but somewhat inflamingly asks the question, “Is The E-Reader Dead?” But rather than yet another infuriating “print is dead!” or “ebooks are dead!” or (a personal favorite) “self-publishing is finally dead!” toned article, this one provides evidence on the reading habits of US consumers, the purchasing history of total volume worldwide sales for digital pioneers like Amazon, and a close look at the competition among the top e-reader retailers, namely Amazon, B&N, Kobo, and Sony. Even better, the author of the article actually spoke to an author from a prominent small press about how e-reading is shaping up across platforms and formats.
It was a great article, even if it’s painful to hear. E-reading and ebooks may not be going anywhere, but according to the author, e-readers may be on the way out.
First, it’s worth pointing out that this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as long as there is still a mechanism to instantly download books and consume them if that’s your preferred format. Whether we read on a dedicated e-ink device or a smartphone or a tablet or a laptop isn’t really a major concern. The article, however, focuses on the traditional e-ink dedicated device, the one that doesn’t do much of anything except download and display books (Note: yes, there are a great number of lesser features like annotation and highlighting, but for all intents and purposes, the job is to show you a book.)
But the most worrying part of the article is the ability to dismiss a beloved device because it only serves one function. That’s like saying, “Toasters are dead!” because a) they only produce toast and b) other multi-function devices can make toast and make coffee. How many single-use items do we take advantage of throughout the day? Is anyone showering in the elevator to make it more useful than just a mode of avoiding the stairs? Is anyone running the vacuum cleaner over the front lawn because it’s just sitting in the closet being lazy?
Like so many of the predictions that have swirled around digital reading, this one feels a little too premature. Certainly the “craze” associated with e-ink displays might be thinning a little, but like all other devices and appliances, e-readers have their place and their fans.