An American Editor

January 17, 2011

Change in Habit: The eReading Device Effect

I am now starting my fourth year as an owner of a dedicated ereading device. Three Christmases ago, my wife bought me a Sony 505, my first dedicated ereading device and my first introduction to the eInk screen. This past October, I bought myself a new Sony 950 and passed my 505 on to my wife. As I have noted before, the 505 still works (and looks) as if brand new.

With the 505 I noticed that I began to read more fiction in ebook form, yet my primary reading remained hardcover nonfiction. This really remained true until perhaps six to eight months ago when I noted I began to read more fiction than nonfiction. I assumed that this was just a repeat of my usual reading trends where I would read a particular type of book for months or years then shift to a different type for the next period.

But recently I began to realize that my reading habit has changed dramatically. The change became particularly noticeable after I acquired the Sony 950. I’m still reading fiction and nonfiction, but the dramatic change — at least for me — is that because I find the 950 such a pleasurable reading device, I am now either buying my nonfiction in both hardcover and ebook or just in ebook, and then in hardcover for my library if I discover that I really enjoyed the book or because of the subject matter want it as a permanent part of my collection.

Whereas before I looked forward to picking up a hardcover book to read, now I find it a chore and want to avoid it as much as possible. This is the seduction of the current generation of ereading devices: they not only entice you to read more, they entice you to avoid print.

Alas, it is not quite a perfect world. I can’t convince myself that an ebook has any permanency. At my age, I’m not comfortable with cloud computing or the fact that there is no agreed upon universal standard for ebooks that can cost a lot of money. Granted that we are now down to two competing standards — Amazon’s and the rest of the universe’s — but even so, that is just a format standard. There is still a babel of DRM schemes designed to limit the life of an ebook.

Because I can’t convince myself that it is a good idea to invest in ebooks for a permanent collection of books, I am becoming the double-dipper that I had so fervently wanted to avoid. This is neither good for my pocketbook nor good for the consumer side of publishing because it continues to encourage publishers and ebooksellers to place restrictions on ebooks rather than opening them up.

All of this is the fault of my ereading device. Like the muses of ancient lore, the device has seduced me. I can’t wait to sit in my recliner and read on my Sony 950; I simply do not want to pick up a printed book. The screen is easy on my eyes, the touch screen a pleasure, the ergonomics excellent for me, and the weight significantly less than most of my hardcovers. It oozes pleasure and an enjoyable time to be had. It also oozes money out of my wallet because I’m reading three to four times as many books as I did before I had an ereading device, and probably a third to a half more books on the 950 as I did on the 505.

So my buying habits have changed, both because I’m reading more and because I now tend to buy a nonfiction book in ebook version either first or along with the hardcover. If only the format and DRM wars would settle, perhaps I could think about giving up hardcovers altogether. Probably not — that is a habit that is really well ingrained, or so I believe today.

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