eBooks, Kindle and the Sweet Smell of Electronic Ink

A Guest Post by Kim Allen-Niesen, co-founder of Bookstore People

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When I tell people I write a blog about independent bookstores, the discussion quickly turns to e-books. Aren’t they the death knell for bookstores? Aren’t I beating a dead horse by promoting visiting and shopping at bookstores?


I received a Kindle for Christmas, 2008. I read the New York Times and half a book before putting it away in my bottom drawer. My husband tried it twice. My teenage son tried it once. My son may have used it more, but it’s one thing to lose a book and quite another to lose a $399 Kindle. A Zogby poll just over a year ago showed that 82% of readers preferred a printed book to an e-book. Cuddling up to a screen isn’t inviting to many. Kindle

Literary agent Bonnie Nadell said at the LA Times Festival of Books that she prints out material sent to her electronically because reading on a screen converts everything to the same voice. I agree, for me it is a fairly flat voice. Also, I find with screen reading that my concentration level is lower. The researcher Jakob Nielsen proved my point scientifically by testing 232 people on how they read from screens. The research subjects tended to skim. In fact, Mr. Nielsen noticed an “F” pattern. People read the top, then down the side and taper off towards the middle. Just like me.

Booksellers, Allison Reid and John Evans of Diesel, described the difference in reading on a screen and from a printed page. Screen reading is for information. They foresaw a time with the reference section or travel section in bookstores disappeared. Avid booklover that I am, 99% of the words I look up are on dictionary.com. Years ago, I used to research a trip for hours in a bookstore eventually buying three or four travel books. Now I buy one overall book for the area I’m visiting and spend hours researching on the Internet. However, Allison and John said that book reading was necessary for knowledge. In their opinion, and there are studies that back this proposition, the concentration and evaluation needed to truly know a subject and build on it required reading from paper.

I’m not a Pollyanna though. People are reading books on their iPhone, and while just visualizing that gives me a headache, electronic reading is part of the future. I’ve met several people who bought the Kindle and think they would like it if only they could get it away from their kids. In part, this could be an age issue; the younger generation is more comfortable reading from electronics. Either way, e-books are here to stay.

The discussion over which reading is better is a battle booksellers need to be aware of to help direct their customers. But it doesn’t stop there, with the advent of e-publishing, there will be an avalanche of choices for readers. This is exactly where booksellers shine, taking a myriad of choices and winnowing out the best. As Bob Lewis pointed out on this blog in “The Second Renaissance-bigger, better, faster!” these are exciting times, and one of the questions is how do booksellers add value and receive compensation in the e-book world? The answer will require innovation and experimentation. What are your thoughts?


Kim Allen-Niesen is co-founder of Bookstore People, a blog that reviews independent bookstores to encourage people to visit them and shop. In addition, books and various literary topics are discussed.

8 thoughts on “eBooks, Kindle and the Sweet Smell of Electronic Ink”

  1. Great thoughts, Kim. I just raced down the hill to buy a paperback I need to read for a meeting tomorrow. I could have downloaded it as an e-book, but didn’t even consider that. Here’s why:

    I can read my paperback on my couch, sitting at the breakfast bar eating lunch, curled up in bed. In all locations, it’ll be easy to use. I can flip backwards to find something I read earlier while simultaneously holding on to where I currently am in the book, and compare the two sections with utmost of ease. I can tuck it into my handbag and take it to my daughter’s volleyball game this afternoon and not worry that it’ll be so bright out that I can’t see the words on the page. I can tell how far I’ve come in the book, and how far I have to go, and how long it’ll take to the end of the chapter (so I can decide easily if there’s time for another chapter before “The Amazing Race” starts). I don’t have to worry about battery life. If I want to, I can do all those things I tell my kids not to do to books: turn down a page to mark an important passage, turn the book upside down to hold my place if I have to run to the door. I don’t have to worry about getting it wet, I don’t have to worry about losing it (it was all of $6), I don’t have to worry about my kids trashing it.

    You’re absolutely right about research and travel, though. I have Wikipedia bookmarked, and click over to it several times a day. The only paper dictionary I use any more is the (uncompleted!) Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang — and if it were online, I’d use it there. I haven’t picked up my trusty Roget’s in years. And I do all my travel research online and, just like you, buy one (maybe two) travel books for any given trip — books that I’ve already researched online.

    But if I want to *read*…. it’s a book, a *real* book, all the way.

    • It’s odd but my daughter is doing a double degree and this semester (4th year) has been the most difficult to date. In prior years she and her fellow students have been happy to avoid purchasing textbooks and rely on downloaded material(don’t ask don’t tell). This semester they all decided they needed real textbooks to get to grips with the subject (thermodynamics) which seems to support the contention of the original post

  2. One of the things that drives me nuts about the Kindle is that I can’t tell where I am in the book, is it half way, a third, or towards the end. Some people say it helps kids read longer books because they don’t know what they’re getting into, interesting thought, but a good book that pulls kids in doesn’t need to worry about length, see books 5 thru 7 of Harry Potter.

  3. I’m conflicted on this one… On the one hand, I hate the Kindle for being a trendy, overpriced new device. On the other, it would be great for the environment to eventually move books off paper. This is something people always seem to forget… We need to chop trees for paper, and trees certainly don’t grow back over night.

    I personally find reading on a screen to be painful though, so for now I’ll stick to regular books. I hope the idea develops further though.

  4. I have a site reviewing ereaders including the Kindle. As I live in Australia I have only recently been able to purchase the new Kindle which operates internationally.

    I believe there has been massive improvement in the screen quality in this new version and for me the reading experience is close to that of reading a real book. The thing I actually miss is the book smell – something I had never thought about until it wasn’t there.

    I read using my Kindle around 50% of the time, mainly when my eyes are tired as I can boost up the font size & use dedicated lighting. However, I can’t see any ereading device taking over from hard copy books.

    Yes it’s convenient to be able to have a book in nano seconds at 3am BUT I still do all my browsing in bookstores and never leave without at least one purchase. How could any avid reader?

    These new ereaders will change reading but only I feel as an adjunct to reading and purchasing real books and for the times when it is more convenient such as travelling.

    Reader eBook

  5. I prefer to use my iphone as an ebook reader. I always have it with me so its very convenient. I will admit though that I prefer a real book every time.

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