Open Forum on Reading Habits

by James Scott Bell
@jamesscottbell

The Kindle turns ten years old this year. A good time to ponder the question, What hath Bezos wrought?

The question comes on the heels of a controversial article from The Guardian UK, which posits that the downturn in e-book sales in 2016 may be related to “screen fatigue.” We simply spend too much time on our phones, computers, tablets, and TVs that the printed page is kind of a relief, says the author.

Another article in The Guardian proclaims that the Kindle is now unhip:

“[The Kindle] was new and exciting,” says Cathryn Summerhayes, a literary agent at Curtis Brown. “But now they look so clunky and unhip, don’t they? I guess everyone wants a piece of trendy tech and, unfortunately, there aren’t trendy tech reading devices and I don’t think people are reading long-form fiction on their phones. I think your average reader would say that one of the great pleasures of reading is the physical turning of the page. It slows you down and makes you think.”

There are a couple of assumptions baked into these articles which, upon closer inspection, do not hold flour. First of all, ebook sales outside of the traditional publishing system are doing just fine. According to the latest Author Earnings Report, between early 2016 and early 2017, overall Amazon US ebook sales grew 4%. “While that’s not the kind of double-digit (or triple-digit) growth we had seen in the earlier days of the ebook era, it’s still more than enough to offset the ongoing shrinkage at Barnes & Noble’s Nook. In other words, albeit slowly now, the overall US ebook market is still growing.”

Still, one might ask if reading habits are changing or morphing back into pre-Kindle practices. So I’d like to throw this open to the TKZ community and visitors.

What are your reading habits like today as opposed to ten years ago? Has anything changed more recently, say in the past five years?

Here’s my answer. When I got my Kindle as a Christmas present in 2010, I was giddy. You mean I can carry around the complete works of Dickens? For 99¢? And Jack London? All in this nifty little device? Cool! And then there is the massive Project Gutenberg library, with so many public domain works — fiction and non-fiction — available for free.

I did continue to frequent my local Barnes & Noble, however, where I would purchase the occasional new release from a favorite author.

But my nearby B&N is no more. The last time I was in a B&N was out of town, about six months ago. The last new print book I purchased, at full price, was on that day. It was a mass market paperback called Nick of Time by a guy named Gilstrap.

I’ve pretty much stopped buying physical books, in no small part because my bookshelves are stuffed. There are volumes stacked on the floor. I’m in the slow process of trying to weed these out, though I find parting to be of such sweet sorrow I often end up reading rather than weeding. My wife has to get me back on task. At least I don’t add to the glut by buying new books. I’m using the L.A. Public Library system more than at any time since I was a kid.

I’m also listening to more library-loaned audio books via OverDrive. 

As far as ebook purchases go, I find myself resistant to prices above $7.99. When I see that a publisher is pricing the ebook the same (and sometimes higher) than the hardcover, I actually snort, shake my head, and go light a candle for the poor author.

So how does all this shake out?

  1. I still love having a massive Kindle library.
  2. I also love having a dedicated Kindle. Not a tablet. I don’t want to multi-task. When I’m on a plane, or waiting somewhere, I just want to read.
  3. I like the ability to highlight books on the Kindle, especially nonfiction. That way, I can print out a 2-5 page précis of the salient points for review and study.
  4. I’ll read on my phone via the Kindle app, but only on occasion. My eyes favor the E ink of my 2nd Gen. Kindle, the one I got for Christmas. (Though I’ve heard the Kindle Oasis absolutely rocks, so that may be in my future).
  5. I have heard reports, however, that among the youngsters they do virtually everything on their phones now, including reading.
  6. I download a lot of samples. So if you want to sell me, make those first pages stunning (see why TKZ does those first page critiques?)
  7. Very rarely do I buy new printed books anymore.
  8. Though I do still like the feel of reading a physical book—laying it open across my chest if I begin to snooze, or throwing it across the room when I get disgusted. As Dorothy Parker once remarked,“This is not a novel to be lightly tossed aside. It should be thrown with great force.”

Your turn. What are your reading and buying habits now in the age of the Kindle? I’m asking that you chat this up amongst yourselves, as I am currently in an undisclosed research location and may not get to comment. So dive in!

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24 thoughts on “Open Forum on Reading Habits

  1. I have never read a ebook on a kindle or any other device, including my smart phone. I find I don’t actually read when I am looking at a screen. I scan and skim–unless I’m working on my own writing. I don’t own a single ebook book, except the ones I wrote. I listen to Audiobooks, check books out of my local library, and buy print books from both traditional and self-published authors. Now days, I listen to more fiction than I read. I still read almost all of my non-fiction, which, as a historian, I read a lot. I think individual preferences will continue to vary and all prophesies of the death of ebooks or print books are seldom based on any real evidence and likely to be wrong. I know people, who only read on ebooks and people like me who never do. So as writers, we need to make sure our “eggs” are out there in as many “baskets” (read formats) as possible.

  2. I fell in love with the Kindle when I bought it (the really old version that was just plain Kindle) and now, on my tablet, which I use almost exclusively as an e-reader, I still love my Kindle. I read almost exclusively in e-format. I do not buy fiction in print, ever. As for non-fiction, it depends. If it is the type of non-fic that is straight narrative & doesn’t rely on graphs & charts (the read one time type non-fic) I buy on Kindle. If it’s the type of non-fic where charts, graphs, & other visuals are crucial to the work, and it’s a work I’m going to use as a reference, I buy in print (because the print is usually larger).

    The inescapable fact for me is that my eyes have worsened over the years and those tiny little print mass market paperbacks don’t cut it any more. (If you want a lesson in tactlessness, in the not too distant past I was sitting in the break room reading my Kindle and another employee walked by and said “God, that print on that screen is big.” Such a charming person. NOT!) BTW, at the university where I work they recently did a presentation on the rising rates of myopia, so electronic reading is not without it’s drawbacks.

    But other considerations affect E-reading habits as well. Most of us are squeezed financially during these trying times. I just had to downsize to a smaller one bedroom apartment—I lost bookshelf space. Though I haven’t read them in a long time anyway, I’ve finally come to the point I’m going to have to sell my beloved collection of Star Trek (TOS) paperbacks and some others.

    Finally, there’s one aspect of the e-reader that I’m still as giddy about now as I was when they first came out: I can throw my tablet in my backpack and at any given time be carrying around about 800 books, all at once. Sorry, but I just can’t do that with paper books.

    I do not have a love affair with phones as most folks do. I still use mine only for talking and texting, when it’s absolutely necessary.

  3. When e-readers first appeared, everyone had the “either-or” attitude. I read on a Nook tablet, but my first reading device was the pre-Kindle eBookwise. I loved the back light so I could read in bed and didn’t have to wake up enough to turn off a light. I still read some print, mostly library books. When we retired, we downsized our living quarters, so physical books have a much more rigorous test to pass before I buy them. Library first, then wait for the paperback. I don’t want to pay more for an ebook than a MMPB; it’s a publisher’s ripoff scheme. From the words of a major publishing figure … “we price the ebooks high when the hard cover comes out so people will buy the hard cover.”
    I don’t find I read differently on my Nook. I love that I can enlarge the font and dim the screen for late-night/early morning/insomniac reading.
    And, an e-reader leaves a hand free for a libation of choice.

  4. I read on my Kindle all the time. I think I prefer it to print because I read faster. (Also, if I’m reading a Game of Thrones book after a long gap, I can highlight the name and the Kindle shows me who that character is + all their backstory. An unexpected bonus.)
    I used to read on a Kindle app on my phone too, but have decided to stop doing that because it drains the battery so fast.

    I still tend to buy non-fiction in paperback (never buy hardback, unless it’s a gift for someone). On the rare occasion that I read an ebook and love it so much that I know I’ll want to read it again and again, I then go out and buy a print copy too.

    The Guardian article caused a lot of discussion in the UK writing community, not least because the numbers they used came from Neilsen bookscan, which doesn’t track books without an ISBN – so have no data on a vast swathe of indie published books.

    Price wise – I buy a lot of books at 99p and 1.99 ( read a lot of romance and crime – both of which have a lot of price promotions). If there’s a book I really want to buy immediately, I’ll pay up to 4.99 (which used to about 7 dollars, so not far from the range you quote).

  5. I use kindle and iBooks on my MacBook read more now than I ever have… mainly because of all the added technology available today to research and sample and find great books/authors more easily… I read more as a whole, not just fiction, but all forms of writing… it’s a great time for readers and writers with so much available and so many writer/reader-friendly sites to learn and grow. And the best part is with so much more available, you can tailor your approach to what best meets your needs…

  6. I’ve had a Kindle since late 2008–my wife and I bought two that fall. Like you, I love having access to a big library of books. Our small house is also packed with books, and also like you, we are in the slow process of weeding our collection to clear floor space. We pretty much purchase eBooks (and digital audio) now. I buy a number of self-published titles along with trad pubbed books, but have to think about the latter, because the prices are usually much higher.

    It’s far easier in general to buy eBooks for convenience and space reasons.

    I read fiction on my Kindle Paperwhite, while I will read non-fiction on the iPad. For extended reading sessions, my eyes much prefer e-ink.

    In my day job with Multnomah County Library System (which serves Portland, Oregon and nearby areas), we’ve seen a continuing growth in digital circulation–meaning eBooks and digital audio, while the growth in print circulation has slowed. eBooks are definitely here to stay.

  7. I’m on my fourth Kindle, a Paperwhite, and read all my fiction on that device. I usually read while eating alone. It takes up so little space on the table, I like how I can adjust font size for my eyesight, and keep a whole library in my coat pocket. However, I read most non-fiction in physical books, particularly books on writing craft and photography. Referring back to references or seeing photographs is much too cumbersome for the Kindle. I once downloaded a version of the Bible for mine and it was a nightmare looking up passages to follow a sermon. Like some of you, I am downsizing my library due to space.

  8. Ten years? Wow.

    My husband and I have hundreds (thousands?) of books on our Kindles. For fiction, it’s eBooks, hands down, b/c of space considerations and price. Up to $5, I’ll take a chance. Over that, the author has to be pretty special. The “Look Inside” feature sells books. I won’t buy anything w/o reading a sample first.

    For reference, though, I still want a paper book to look up, highlight, and dog-ear pages. My JSB writing references look like beat-up, but well-loved teddy bears.

    No reading on smartphones or glary screens. Kindle with expanding font size is easy on my aging eyes.

    Many kids still seem to love real books. I’m surprised at the number I see with noses buried in physical books, which is encouraging.

    The early meteoric growth of eBooks couldn’t be sustained in the long haul. Slower sales doesn’t mean eBooks are dead, anymore than dire predictions made at the dawn of Kindle meant the demise of physical books. The market has simply settled to equilibrium.

  9. A little of this, a little of that, explains my reading habits. I love the Kindle app on my iPad and use it frequently, especially when I travel or hit up the local coffee shop. The public library is my go-to place for fiction and special topics that I may be researching for my writing. Hardbacks are my downfall and now I purchase only the ones that are special or that I want to keep. For example, I read part of Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s biography in the library and then went to my local, small bookseller for the hardback.
    Please do a column on how to get rid of books. It is my addiction (books and handbags) and I agonize over every book that goes to Friends of the Library or the senior center.

  10. My go-to is my iPad. Got my first one six years ago and have only purchased one printed/bound book since then. And that was only because that one was not available as an eBook. Sometimes I can’t find the book I want in iBooks so I use the Kindle app on my iPad and read away.

    I LOVE my iPad for reading. I’m reading more than ever. Getting a free sample to make sure I’m going to like the story, being able to look words up in the dictionary, being able to highlight “special” passages, and of course the convenience–Wonderful. I never thought I’d like reading eBooks. But now I’ll never go back!

  11. Still love paper books but rarely buy them because so little space left in house. And I never buy hardcovers, not because I am cheap but because my hands are small and getting old so holding a big heavy book is no fun. I rely on the Kindle for travel mainly, because many places just don’t have bookstores and most bookstores that still exist tend to stock the stuff that sells big so you’re chances of happening upon a hidden gem are are slim — unless you’re lucky to have a great indie store.
    Also, traveling to foreign countries where English bookstores are rarer still, means I’d die without a Kindle.

    And here’s where I really love my Kindle: When I finish a really good book and want an immediate fix of the same author. Did that with Ben Winter’s terrific novel The First Policeman. Finished it at 2 a.m. in bed in a tiny village in France and with three clicks had the sequel!

    An aside to Jan above: Hard to part with books but I have given cartons to one of our local library which takes the best ones for their shelves and sells the rest at their “garage sales” for funding money. But this one library is an “indie” meaning it is not part of the huge county system which rejects all donations. So if you can find an “indie” library, you might have success. I have also set books outside on a table at the curb with sign: FREE TO A GOOD HOME! Have also left books at Whole Foods (they have a shelf for contributions) and in public places.

  12. I read a wide variety of book formats. I love my Kindle because it carries hundreds of my favorite books. My wife and I used to step on an airplane with a bag carrying four to six hardcover books for a two week vacation. Now we can carry our Kindles and have a wide range of books to read.

    I listen to books on tape when I travel to work each day. I still go to the library and check out a hardcover book once a month. And last month I attended a session at a local library where individuals could meet thirty authors. I made sure to buy an autographed hardcover from one of the authors and have a list of other authors I will purchase an eBook from in the near future.

    Please keep writing because I’m still reading.

  13. My Dad was a librarian, so, to me, book-line bookshelves in any context is normal and desirable.

    However, in my old age, I am giving some space to e-books, on my computer by Kindle reading device as I can get the page and font sizes to my liking. This may well go on past the time I have cataract surgery.

    In my search for electrically-driven books, I have run across two resources for research and books. One is Forgotten Books. (forgottenbooks.com). The purveyors have dug out many, many old, outdated books, and updated copyrights on their addendums to the books . Mostly, I’m interested in non-fiction for research purposes, so I’m not really aware of how much, if any, of their volumes are fiction. They have two modes of access to their site. One is by monthly membership fee. The other is as a guest. In my search for books, I have downloaded several textbooks on Latin, several on the Koine Greek of the New Testament, and a Hebrew language reader on the book of Jonah. I have a work-in-progress about a young Chinese-American woman who has been franchised by her government to take out . . . well, that’s the story, isn’t it? (As a Brit might express it.) So I have downloaded several books on Chinese history, stories, and culture of past ages. I do have to be careful because I could spend my entire writing time looking for books on the site.

    Another site on which I must be careful not to get too involved is Google Play Books. This is another site for yesteryear as well as relatively recent books. And, this site is a treasure trove for me. I have run across a book that contains much information on my great-great grandfather by someone who knew him, a book on the little Oklahoma Baptist church in which my mother and many of our family were members, and the still-revered Canadian missionary, Miss Crawford, who came to tell the story of Jesus. In doing research on the Wise Men who came to Jesus’ parents house (which COULD have been as soon as the next day, I think), I’ve found material on the Wise Men in old volumes. (Modern research sometimes is tainted when it goes through the strainer of liberal theologians; for some things, I much prefer the down-home approach of pious local pastors who preach to their flocks rather than those many-degreed theologians and scholars who are writing for their colleagues and academia. The books here are free or low-cost (debit and credit cards, as well as Paypal, are accepted).

    So while I still prefer book-line shelves in a well-lit room, I am becoming acquainted with the benefits of having electricity and a kindle reader. But the library still calls.

  14. Am I the only one with the B & N Nook? It was a gift not a personal purchase, but so far so good. I must have real books also. However, whether Nook or hard cover, soft cover paperbacks, I’m frugal. I haunt library sales, and refuse to pay $28-$30 for a book. and yet, don’t writers want good $$ for all their hard work. Some books in my bookcases I won’t part with. I only cull the bookcases every so many years–it’s a painful experience…..

  15. I’ve never owned a Kindle, although I use the app. I owned multiple Nooks over the years, and technically still do. It’s not like this pack rat has thrown them out. I do 99.9% of my fiction reading on my iPad, using either the Kindle or Nook app (depending on the book). The biggest change in reading for me is when I obtained a library card for a class a couple of years ago. Now I almost never buy books. I just check them out. Exceptions are things that are on special, or if there’s a waiting list and I’m too impatient to wait it out. I still have nearly $ 100 credit at B & N from the class action settlement, and I have no idea when I’ll spend it. I recently read a physical book only because my library didn’t have the ebook version and I want to read it. (It was “The Twentieth Day of January” by Ted Allbeury. If any KZ readers are looking for a fictional account of the Russians manipulating an American presidential election written at the height of the Cold War by a contemporary of Le Carre’s I highly recommend this.) It was an odd experience to read a physical book after so long. I’m so used to manipulating the font appearance and size, plus the background color, and the whole not needing a light to read at night thing, that it made me truly appreciate e-reading.

    I still prefer hard copies of cookbooks, and audiobooks will never be my thing.

  16. I never expected to defect from the printed book to Kindle but when I started looking at them in a Best Buy store, I fell in love with the font adjustment. Like many others have mentioned, the printed books fonts are so small, and even with a magnifying sheet, too difficult to read. I also love the fact that I no longer have to worry about the weight of a physical book and I can carry my entire library of over 1200 books wherever I go. I must admit to being a Kindle junkie. If I see a book that from the description sounds interesting and it is inexpensive, I will download it. Even with all the books I now have, I still get more! My roommate and I are both avid readers and she has just as many, and we are on the Kindle Prime, so we can share one another’s books as well. Our friends have joked that we need a 12 step program for this. I am a happy addict though, and I do not seek help. 🙂

  17. I still love printed books, but almost all of my reading for the past several years has been done on an electronic device. Except for reference books, I buy my books in electronic format — first, because of space savings (a few years ago I had to downsize and get rid of about 800 books); second, because ebooks cost less and I never need to discard them (they live in the Kindle cloud); and, finally, because with Kindle devices and apps I need never be stuck anywhere with nothing to read.

    I love both my old Kindle keyboard (great for reading outdoors) and my Kindle Fire (I just traded in my old 7″ Fire tablet for a new 8″). I think both are great for reading any kind of narrative, and I love being able to read in bed at night with the lights off. Also, I’ve become unaccustomed to — and impatient with — the bulk of many printed books, having to mark my place, etc. And I think it’s ridiculous to pay $15-30 for a new book, especially when I know the author is only getting a tiny fraction of that for their hard work. But I have to admit, I hope we never a move away from printed books entirely. There’s nothing quite like them.

  18. I read most things on my iPod these days–fiction, that is. Nonfiction I still like to get in paperback for underlining purposes. I also beta read for other authors on my iPod, which allows me to swap between apps and keep notes. I also write a lot on the thing. My kids, being 10 and under, require physical books. If I gave them a tablet, they would only play games on it, and I’m trying to grow them into readers.

  19. The Kindle app on my phone is handy when I’m somewhere I couldn’t bring a book or simply didn’t think to, and I have a couple of titles I haven’t finished. But i tend not to buy ebooks. I tend not to buy books much at all right now. I’ve got a library card. My wife and I are always reading something when we go to bed – right now it’s Dave Barry’s “Tricky Business” – but it takes a while to get through a book because the dulcet tones of my voice send her to sleep, sometimes within a few paragraphs. And we both have other books, from the library, that we’re working on as well. So my book-buying habits haven’t changed that much, unless you count the occasional library fine.

  20. I haven’t bought a print book since I got an e-reader in 2010. Since then, I’ve switched to a mini tablet as it allows me to do other things like using the internet. I can also shop for the best price for an ebook on the different reading apps. Its roughly the same size as an e-reader or a paperback. I find the larger 10 inch tablets too cumbersome.

    I can get over twenty hours of reading off a full charge. I take it everywhere in my handbag. If i don’t want to be disturbed by emails or other notifications while reading, I just put it on airplane mode. The screen is harder on the eyes than an e-reader, but I’ve found that if I have plenty of ambient light, it isn’t as bad. Don’t read in the dark if you’re worried about eyestrain.

    I hate shopping, so I really like the convenience of buying a book without leaving home. I rarely spend over $5 on an ebook. It would have to be by someone I really like.

    I read an article last year about which countries have embraced ebooks and which ones have shunned them. Not surprisingly, France doesn’t buy a lot of ebooks as they like traditionally made products and are slow to embrace new technology. But Japan doesn’t buy a lot of ebooks either. Their traditional side seems to be stronger than their love of new technology. I think the article said Brazil, Germany and India were growth ebook markets.

  21. The kids gave me a Kindle Fire for Mother’s Day. I love it, though I use it for games, e-mail, and surfing the net. I’m hoping it will replace my dead laptop.

    I use Overdrive on my phone. I listen to audio books on my commute and on long drives. I was checking out e-books as well but I’m trying to read my way through my physical backlog first. Due to budgetary constraints I don’t buy many new books. I haunt Goodwill or trade with friends.

    Nothing beats a paperback on the hammock.

  22. I changed to reading ebooks back before the Kindle, my first e-reader was the ebookwise. I held onto my paper books, fiction, until my divorce and the experience of moving ALL those books.

    I have gone mostly ebook for all reading now. I will buy certain paper books, mainly non-fiction for research or if they are books I will re-read.

    As for the type of screen, I will read on the phone, tablet, and computer. I don’t notice the difference when I am reading. I have apps that cut the blue light so I can read at night. I love the ability to export highlights and dread going back and gathering all the notes I have in the paper books.

    I am almost totally ebook reading now. I love them, and use 3 different apps to read my books on.

  23. I am a wanton consumer of all formats: e-books, print (usually a used copy, sadly for the author’s royalties), and recently, Audible audio books. I do tend to buy new print books while traveling. Over time I’ve found that reading print books provides a better “deep concentration brain experience ” than reading on a device, for some reason. So, reading on a device has become a last resort (except for sampling books–I’m a MAJOR sampler of Kindle books. If they grab me in the sample, I usually order it in print or Audible version).

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