E-Readers: Cute as a Button or a Real Page Burner?


E-readers are spineless compared with hardcover books, lacking the soulful carbon fingerprints of readers past. You cannot fold the pages of the wafer-thin gadgets, or make your mark with splotches of food or wine. And the idea of clutching the casing to your chest after reading the final line of a novel just leaves me cold. As one book club friend of mine waxes, “There’s just something about the smell of a book.”

Still, we all can smell and see the writing is on the screen when it comes to these devices outsourcing print media, sparing trees and saving money. According to ID TechEx, the total market size in 2010 is a whopping $131 million, and is expected to soar to $1.7 billion by 2014. Much of that growth is attributed to huge success of Kindles and other portable e-readers. “In 2020, the market value will reach $7.45 billion thanks to the availability of flexible, color displays and faster refresh rates,” the market analysts predict.


Why do users find them so friendly?

“I bought one for my wife for her birthday and enlarged the fonts so she can read the words on the screen without squinting or wearing reading glasses,” says Steve Montoya, a Bay Area IT consultant. “She’s an avid reader. Recently, she read a series she couldn’t get in e-print, and couldn’t wait to finish it and get back to her Kindle.”

While you can’t download all desirable titles now, the Amazon library and others are growing every day.


“You can get books, magazines, newspapers, even audio books to listen to with headphones,” Montoya says.

The graphite feature also is a huge power saver, he finds, noting you can get several days of reading on one charge. And since it works on a cellular network, it also makes it easy to instantaneously order books and have them appear on your library. Plus, the e-readers never seem to lose connection.

“My brother-in-law is in Afghanistan and his iPhone doesn’t work, but his Kindle does,” says Montoya.

If the prequel of our paperless future is the tragic death of magazines and newspapers, will the sequel be the disappearance of paperback and hardcover reads? Are there upsides to this plot? Here are some of the pros and cons of e-reading devices:


Pro: If you are a voracious reader without a library card, you probably will save money on an e-reader. If you are a voracious reader with a library card, you probably will save on late fees.

Con: You have to spend a lot for the cheapest iPad, which is wifi-only, holds 16GB of storage and sells for nearly $500. The Que is $649 and has a 4GB of data storage. The 3G wireless Amazon Kindle is more affordable at $250.


Pro: When the Kindle was introduced in 2007, travelers loved the benefits of of storing up to 1,500 books on a device the size of a small paperback read. And the library of available books to download keeps expanding (the first chapter of any book is free). Let’s face it, we are a storage-challenged human race with too much junk and not enough apartment and home space. This eliminates the need for shelving.

Con: Our private libraries are important for sharing with our friends and children and passing down treasured collections – classics and complementary fiction that rocked our world. Plus, it’s a lot easier to lose a gadget than an entire dusty collection.


Pro: Many green publications, including Inhabitat, sing the praises of e-readers because they ultimately aid the environment by requiring no deforestation to manufacture, compared to the traditional paper publishing industry. This doesn’t even include the energy, materials, dyes and carbon from shipping that shames the print industry. According to a study by Cleantech, the carbon emitted in the lifecycle of  a Kindle, for example, is fully offset after the first year. And more earth-friendly models are on the move, like LG’s Solar ebook introduced last year, boasting a thin photovoltaic cell which keeps the juice pumping so your novel won’t go kaput during the climax.

Con: What is being offered is a new thing to buy, to keep you busy on the subway. High tech by nature is incompatible with green with exceptions such as solar panels, which also require an investment in energy to make. Green means a return to what your grandparents did, a return to simplicity: Walk a few blocks to school and work. Open a book on your front porch and snooze. That’s 18th Century technology. Also, the effectiveness of reducing emissions by popularizing these gadgets is dependent upon the publishing industry standardizing its adoption of the technology while committing to cutting down the production of physical books and other print media. Is this likely to happen anytime soon, other than by default?


Pro: Toss the paper thin, lightweight, wireless device in your bag and you’re good to go. The new generation of Kindles is lighter than a paperback at 6″ and 10.2 oz. and you can hold it with one hand, which aids those carpal tunnel issues. This is why so many e-readers are the new companions of commuters. Hopefully, driving laws will keep users from biting into New Moon while behind the wheel. If you thought texting was was a dangerous distraction while driving…

Con: The tactile experience of gripping a book, magazine or Sunday paper can outweigh the fact it might be heavier to lug. It is this experience that is woven into our cultural wiring. No matter how hard technology tries, the tendency for consumers to prefer print over e-readers will endure for many years to come. With regard to our cultural connection to books, a graduate student at the University of Toronto wrote that his first experiences with a reader felt like “a courageous betrayal of every word written from the moment papyrus gave way to paper.”


Pro: We are a society that needs to stay connected now more than ever. In terms of signal range, e-readers never seem to drop out.

Con: Losing connection might be easier on the eyes. Having your head in a book just isn’t the same as having your peepers fixed on a screen for hours of pleasure reading. Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS) cases are rising in people looking for relief from fatigue, strain and irritation caused by focusing on worlds and images on a surface without well-defined edges contrasted against backgrounds. Eyes simply respond better to most printed text of bold black letters on a bright, white background.

Images: E-readers

Luanne Bradley

Luanne Sanders Bradley is the West coast Editor at EcoSalon and currently resides in San Francisco, California.