E-Book Readers Expected To Grow In Popularity

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Bookseller Barnes & Noble announced a new electronic-reading device, adding a new device to a sector that is seeing stiff competition. Omar Gallaga, who covers technology culture for the Austin American-Statesman, says 3 million e-book readers could be sold this year.


Well, now for more on e-reading, our All Tech Considered expert Omar Gallaga here. He covers technology culture for the Austin American-Statesman. Welcome back, Omar.

OMAR GALLAGA: Hi, Robert. Good to talk to you.

SIEGEL: Have you sprung for an eReader, by the way, yourself?

GALLAGA: I have not, not yet. I'm not a subway or rail commuter, but if I was, I would probably get one or if I were a student, who is juggling lots of heavy textbooks, I would probably go ahead and make the jump.

SIEGEL: Now, the Kindle is out there, the Sony machines are out there, now Barnes and Noble is going to introduce the Nook, which I gather has some new features. What's different about the Nook from other eReaders?

GALLAGA: It has, in addition to the standard six-inch eReader display, a color display right below it. So, it's got an additional second screen that will be more like a traditional LCD screen where you'll be able to see book covers in full color. And it also has a new feature called Lend Me, which allows you to lend out a copy of an e-book to a friend.

Unfortunately, you can only do that one time with one book and you have no access to that book while it's lent out. So, that's one advantage over the Kindle, but it is very limited and publishers can also opt not to allow you to lend you a particular book.

SIEGEL: Now, people talk about this holiday season as being the time when lots of people will buy these eReaders. How many do they expect and who's buying them?

GALLAGA: The last two years as e-books have kind of taken off and e-book readers like the Kindle have been introduced, it's been primarily older readers, people who are voracious bookworms. But it seems like that market is expanding. Forrester Research expects that three million e-book readers like the Kindle will be sold this year. And by the end of next year, they expect 10 million e-book readers will have been sold.

And I think some of that has to do probably with the Barnes and Noble reader, which will probably do very well.

SIEGEL: Do people in the industry talk about the inevitability of people ultimately reading with eReaders as opposed to hard copy books, I guess to have a new word for books?

GALLAGA: Well, I think so. I mean, there is definitely the trade off. You know, there is the portability and convenience of e-books versus the tactile sensation of a regular book, which there's been no duplication of that yet. You still don't have the same look and feel of books yet. But I don't think it's a fad either. I think publishers are definitely acknowledging that this is the future. And, you know, if you're comparing it to music, which was a relatively swift transition to digital music, books are definitely much more entrenched, I think, than the music industry. So, I think it's going to be a much longer transition.

SIEGEL: If I buy an eReader and I then buy lots of books, which I read on it, let's say I trade up for a different eReader or I give the eReader to my daughter, do the books convey with it? Can I keep the books somewhere else? Can I just lend a particular book and say why don't you read this, I just read it. Take a look at this one?

GALLAGA: Well, that's been a big knock against the Kindle is that if you have a Kindle and they have a Kindle, there's no easy way to lend a book or resell a book once you're done with it. But you can definitely give a device to someone and there are now ways that you can read that same e-book on, say, an iPhone or on a computer screen. Amazon just announced they're coming out with a Windows eReader application, where you'd be able to read those same e-books on your computer screen. You can already read them on your iPod or iPhone, you own that content. So, you should be able to read it in whatever format, whether it's on the e-book reader itself or on some other screen that you own.

SIEGEL: But to go back to where you began, this is a device that you, for example, associate with mobility. If you were taking a train to and from work, you would want to have this. If you're doing your reading in bed at night and your book is on the nightstand, what's the matter with a book?

GALLAGA: Well, nothing at all.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GALLAGA: In fact, that's how I tend to consume most of my books still. But I also find myself more and more reading news articles and magazine articles on my phone in bed, you know. I'm lying there with my little tiny screen and still able to digest kind of smaller content like that.

So, I think when people think of the Kindle and think of some of the other e-book readers, they think primarily about books. But these are also e-book readers for newspapers, you can also read magazine articles on these, you can also read blogs on the Amazon Kindles. So, I think definitely for shorter form content, people are going to be, you know, curled up in bed with them as well and not just these, you know, thousand-page novels.

SIEGEL: Thank you, Omar.

GALLAGA: Thanks for having me.

(Soundbite of music)

GALLAGA: And we'll be posting links to a lot of information about these devices on the All Tech Considered blog and that's at npr.org/alltech.

SIEGEL: Omar Gallaga covers technology culture for the Austin American-Statesman and for All Tech Considered.

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