The boom in e-readers
The explosion of mobile devices is behind the boom in ebook reading. They represent the start of a new wave of computing, taking on many tasks that were previously done by PCs and making new ones possible.
There are four main ways that people read ebooks:
- Dedicated ebook readers
Dedicated ebook readers
These devices are purpose-built for reading ebooks, but have only limited functionality in other areas such as web browsing. They started the ebook boom but their sales have begun to decline.
Popular examples are the Kindle, Nook, Sony Reader, and Kobo Reader.
They’re light and portable, relatively inexpensive, and use a paper-like screen technology called E Ink. This works well in bright light and uses very little power enabling ebooks to be read for long periods without needing to recharge the battery.
But they have limitations. The current generation of E Ink screens only displays in black and white and, while they work well with ebooks that are mostly text, they’re less suitable for highly designed books.
In addition, the screen refresh rate — the time it takes to redraw the screen with a new page — is too slow to support video and fairly cumbersome when browsing the web.
Tablets and smartphones
Tablet computers and smartphones, like Apple’s iPhone and iPad, can now display ebooks — once the owner has installed an e-reader app. An ‘app’ is a small piece of software that runs on a smartphone or tablet computer.
These e-reading apps have brought ebooks to hundreds of millions of smartphone and tablet users. These devices are really general-purpose mobile computers so they can be used for surfing the web, email, games, calendars — and reading.
Most major ebookstores, such as Amazon and Kobo, provide free apps closely tied to their stores so users can read and buy ebooks from them.
So do several independent app developers such as Bluefire and Aldiko. These apps can be used to read ebooks purchased from most ebookstores. Two notable exceptions are Amazon and Apple which restrict access to ebooks bought from their stores by using proprietary formats or copy-protection systems.
This video shows an example of tablet — in this case, the Kindle Fire — that’s been optimised for reading out of the box.
Personal computers as e-readers
Personal computers and notebooks are still widely used to read ebooks. They’re most useful for research and study, or for complex works such as technical books; they’re less suitable for reading fiction and general non-fiction ebooks — the parts of the market that have grown strongly.
The most common way to read ebooks on computers is with free Adobe Reader software, and ebooks formatted as PDF documents. This system remains a staple of educational publishing and many non-fiction categories.
However, free applications from Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble and Adobe among others make it possible to buy and read the same ebooks that are made for dedicated e-readers and mobile apps.
Find out more about this topic on our Digital Publishing 101 useful resources site.