Good news for ebooks: the 82-year-old mother test

About this time last year, TKZ hosted a couple of spirited discussions about the merits of e-books, Kindles, and electronic publishing in general. After watching my 82-year-old mother become a devoted “Kindle convert” during the course of a recent cross-country road trip, I suspect that the technology battle is over. E-books have won.

My mother (nicknamed “Mimi” by friends and family) and I recently drove from South Carolina to Los Angeles in a cream puff of a car, a ’99 Mercedes sedan (it had only 17,000 miles on it when we hit the road). My sister had given Mimi a Kindle at the outset of our trip–and as we set off, my mother was a gracious but reluctant recipient. Thanks, she said, but I’ll never be able to hold it right for reading. It just won’t feel the same as a book. Will I have to keep it on a wire like the laptop I never use?

And then she plugged it in. Two days later, I couldn’t pull her away from the thing.

By the time we got to Phoenix, Mimi had already made her way through two Stieg Larsson books, and was downloading more. She was so enraptured by the reading experience that she was barely coming up for air.

Before she got her Kindle, Mimi was a voracious reader, but her buying habits wouldn’t have brought joy to publishers. Unable to make it out to the library anymore, she had become an avid reader of used books–we would send her box loads of second hand books. As a child of the Depression, Mimi thinks paying $26.95 for a brand new hardback is practically sinful, and she’d fuss at us if we splurged on any title we could have bought used from Amazon at a fraction of the price.(I tried to explain to her that buying new books helped ensure the future of her favorite authors, but try explaining that to someone who peeled the foil off the backs of gum sticks during World War II).

Mimi is so excited about her Kindle, it’s like we’ve given an addict her first hit.  She rhapsodizes about how you can increase the font size, and the long battery life.

After all the angst and anguish about what e-books will do to publishing, I think the future is bright–in the future, readers like Mimi will be downloading and paying full price for e-books. By being able to browse and read samples online, they’ll be exposed to new releases and other books they may never otherwise have read. And–did I mention? They’ll pay full price.

I think this is great news for writers and publishers. I call it the “82-year-old mother test.” Bottom line: If Mimi loves your product, you’ve got a great future. And boy, does Mimi love her new Kindle.

If my mother has joined the ranks of e-reader converts, I’m ready to declare an end to the debate (at least on Tuesdays, which is my blog day). The e-book era is officially here. May we all live long, e-read, and prosper.

What about you? Have you overcome previous doubts about e-books and joined the ranks of e-readers? Are you secretly hoping for an iPad, Nook, or Kindle this year?

28 thoughts on “Good news for ebooks: the 82-year-old mother test

  1. Word on the street is that Santa has me on his nice list, and a certain electronic something in his bag with my name on it.

    I do think the tide has turned. The last “hold outs” were going to be the true book lovers (and I’m one) who love the feel of paper and the look and even smell of physical books. But the merits of pure storage space alone, coupled with instant gratification, great price and selection, and impulse buys, begins to win the day.

    There will be many who do both, of course. There are certain physical book you want to own and hold. But that doesn’t mean rejection of an e-reader.

    Now the big question: has Mimi shelled out her 99¢ for FRESH KILLS yet?

  2. I gave Mimi a verbal recap of BLOOD REMAINS from the anthology during our trip, and she said she would download the anthology–I think she’d been waiting for the paper version to come out, lol.

  3. Sorry, I’m still holding out. 😎 I have to stare at a computer all day at work, then more in the morning and night when I’m working on my own book. I still want good ole paper.

    Gee whiz, I just starting using audio books about a year ago because it was hard to make the transition from “reading it for myself” to having someone read it for me. LOL!

    Ask me in another 10 years. 😎

  4. No prob, BK, we’ll wait for you! The e-ink technology is actually fairly easy on the eyes, I was surprised to discover (I didn’t believe the manufacturer’s claims at first). Mimi was amazed that she had to have a light on to read an electronic device.

  5. I suspect the e-reader conversion rate will eventually approach 100%. The advantages are so numerous, the disadvantages so few and so minor.

    And, importantly, readers don’t have to choose between e-readers and paper books. I suspect most read both formats, as I do. I recently purchased The Brothers Karamazov — since I want everyone to know about my highbrow literary tastes, I bought the hardcover version and placed it on our coffee table.

  6. Philip, my “show” books are the leather volumes that line our bookcases. I never read them but they make the house look intellectual :). Our “real” books are stacked in closets and the garage.

  7. My conversion date came last February 27–my birthday–when my wife gave me the new-fangled thing. I was resistant until after the first ten minutes, and then I haven’t looked back since. Not only am I reading more books than before, but I also receive my Washington Post on my Kindle and my Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine as well.

    BK, just so you know, reading the Kindle is nothing like reading off a computer screen.

    Here’s the coolest thing: The free Kindle app on my iPhone finds where I left off on the Kindle for those times when I go shopping with my wife and am stuck purse-sitting while she’s in the changing room. The next day (or a month from now), when I pick up my Kindle again, it will automatically synch to the spot where I left off on the iPhone app.

    It’s a very, very cool device.

    John Gilstrap

  8. I agree, John. My favorite thing is to browse through excerpts, getting a feel of all the new books that are out there. I’ve really gotten a sense of how important that first chapter is, as we’ve discussed before on this blog. Probably like most people, I base my purchase decision on the sample one can download. If it doesn’t draw me in, I move on.

  9. Great post, Kathryn. I have a similar story now that you’ve shared yours.

    My wife, mother, and mother-in-law conspired to get me a Kindle 2 last Christmas. I love the thing and have read quite a bit on it. The benefits definitely outweigh the detractions.

    Now, you need to know some things about my wife. We usually enter a book’s story world or series via the movie first. She loves the Harry Potter series but she’s never read the books. She loves the Twilight movie. I bought her the Twilight books after the movie came out and ended up reading them myself. Bottom line: she’s just not a bookish person.

    Anyway, a few weeks back she needed a self-help book. She researched and downloaded a good one on *my* kindle and now she keeps it by her bedside. Just yesterday she lamented that the battery was dead and couldn’t read herself to sleep.

    As an aspiring author all I can say is Hallelujah!

  10. HI Kathryn,

    Great story. I can attest to success of ereaders with our parents generation too. My folks have two kindles and an IPad. They go to France for a month every year and love the convenience of not lugging lots of books with them. Their only complaint is with French Telecom. Seems they can’t get on line with the IPad as easily as they can at home in DC.

    To confess, I am the luddite. But I’m hoping for an IPad for Christmas.

  11. no…no…nooooo. that is the sound of me kicking and screaming. i will hold out to the very very end…until they no longer publish books. and i hope that’s after i’m in the bone garden. actually, i’m running out of grandkids to help with yet another new electronic invention. maybe if they’d stop rolling their eyes!!!

  12. I’m a convert, both as a reader and as an author. Digital media is the way to go for both sides, but paper media must also be considered even if it is just as method of storage for posterity. As an IT guy I can tell you that what is saved digitally will eventually get lost. But for now, while it is technologically sound, digital is the way to go.

  13. I bought a large Kindle for my 83-year-old mother, who suffers from macular degeneration, in the hope that the ability to enlarge fonts would help her. Now we can’t get her away from it. My dad called a few minutes ago to ask about wish lists and so i could walk him through a download.

    She took to hers so well, I bought one of the smaller ones for myself and love it. I’m a book person, but the protability and space consideration are a big Kindle plus, as well as the ability to get some books no longer (or never) available in paper.

    Like FRESH KILLS, which I bought in my initial download.

  14. I was hooked the day that I got my Kindle 2. In fact, I actually don’t like reading paper books anymore, (Yes, I know sacrilege) because I don’t like to fumble keeping the pages open. With the Kindle, I don’t have to worry about losing my place because I dropped it accidentally, or forgot to put in the bookmark.

    And I agree, the e-ink screen is easy to read. I have an iPad too (cause I’m a techno geek) and it’s an OK reader, but not as easy to read books on as the Kindle.

  15. I’d rather read a book on my Kindle than on paper. Since I got this thing, I’ve not bought a single book, nor checked one out of a library. I agree that 100% of readers will go Kindle (or whatever brand) in the future unless the cost is the deciding factor. The quality of print is book like, more than computer like. In fact the Kindle is as easy on my eyes as a book. The type is crisp and turning the pages becomes reflexive and its smaller and far thinner than a hardcover, and can hold hundreds of books.

    What I would like to see is the price of new books reflecting the cost and a reasonable profit split with the author. Some books I would have purchased are simply too expensive until the new wears off the book and the price is reduced.

    I’m a coot, and if I can deal with this kind of change, I suspect anybody can and will.

  16. I love this story about Mimi! That’s great.

    I’m still in the paper book camp. I’d imagine that some day I’ll be reading from an e-reader, but not yet.

  17. Hi Kathryn,
    I keep waiting for them to get even cheaper. Also, my mom is 85 and has a lot of trouble reading. I thought there was a back light on the kindle. I haven’t even held one yet. So when an elderly person is reading it they still need good light, right? I love that the font is adjustable. Why is the DX so expensive? I’m guessing that will change over time as well.

    Do you think the large one is easier to manage for the elderly and how difficult is it to download. Hey, if I get it for my mom and she doesn’t like it, I CAN KEEP IT! πŸ™‚

  18. Great comments everyone, thanks! I think it’s clear that e-readers are beginning to appeal to all types of readers, including many people who aren’t normally early adopters of technology.

  19. Thank you, Kathryn, for easing my mind about my Christmas gift for my mother! And thanks to Dana for confirming it.

    I bought a nook the day after they dropped the price of the wi-fi version to $139. For at least five years I’ve thought that ebooks were the way to go, but until recently the technology wasn’t good enough to persuade me to buy an ereader. I love my nook! There’s nothing like being able to enlarge the font after a day in front of a computer screen. It makes it painless to carry around those 700 plus page novels everywhere I go.

    When my 83 year old mother was in a car accident recently and had to give up driving, she mentioned that she most missed being able to go to the library. (She’s a voracious reader.) I ordered her a Kindle last week as a Christmas gift and my son will be giving her ebook gift certificates. I got the Kindle because I wasn’t sure she’d be able to handle the touch screen navigation on the nook. I was still having misgivings over my choice, but now can’t wait to give it to her.

  20. I got my kindle three weeks ago and I love it. One of the best parts is, I tend to read classics, and I can get those for free. Just read oliver twist, which I got for free. This aspect isn’t that handy if you’re not into reading classics, but if you enjoy classics, I can hardly think of something nicer than free books.

    One thing I hate though is if I backtrack a ton, and then I want to return to my furthest read page, I select the option “move to furthest page read,” but it doesn’t bounce me forward. It just keeps me on the same page.

    Does anyone know how to get this feature working?? thx!

  21. I am totally hooked on my iPad and am encouraging anyone who will listen on the benefits of e readers. In oz paper books are ludicrously expensive so for me, and I suspect the whole industry, it is the only cost effective way forward.

  22. Jillian, I’ve handled the larger Kindle and it’s very light, but gives a sense of more screen space. I think either one would work for an older reader.

    Taylor, I don’t know about that backtrack feature–I’m lucky when I know how to plug things in right. Maybe one of our resident techno-savvy readers or bloggers will know the answer to your question…

  23. Okay, I admit, since many people here have noted that the e-readers are not hard on the eyes like computers, that has pushed up my timeline for testing the waters of e-readers. I’m also intrigued by the possibility of the free downloads of some of the classics.

    Maybe I’ll wiggle my toes in the e-reader waters in 2011. We’ll see.

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