Good news, people! The publishing industry isn’t doomed after all! All of those filthy millennials who wouldn’t know literature if Charles Dickens chased them down the street lobbing first editions of War and Peace at them while reading The Complete Works of Shakespeare haven’t managed to kill it yet. The rumors of its death were greatly exaggerated. In fact, things are looking up.
According to the Pew Research Center, things are pretty okay in the book world. The total number of Americans who have read a book in the past year has fallen from 74 percent in 2012 to… 73% in 2016. That’s not bad.
But even with that tiny downward blip in overall reader numbers, everything else looks pretty good. Last year, bookstores saw a 2.5 percent increase in sales, the first since 2007.
More surprisingly, the humble book is staying strong. 65 percent of Americans reported reading an actual, physical, printed-words-on-sheets-of-paper book in both 2012 and 2016. Despite their best efforts (and my fervent wishes) the Kindle and other e-readers haven’t managed to put paid to the printed word. The share of readers who have read an ebook has only risen slightly from 23 percent to 28 percent.
The biggest winners, though, have been phones and tablets. Pew claims that the “share of ebook readers on tablets has more than tripled since 2011 and the number of readers on phones has more than doubled over that time.”
Clearly reading is still a pretty popular pastime (even with all the binge-watchable shows available on Netflix and other streaming services). People are just doing it on a wider range of devices than ever before. So, with that in mind, let’s look at the best ways to read a book in 2016!
I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m a fan of the Amazon Kindle. It’s affordable, well made, has a battery that lasts for days, is super easy to travel with, and is just an all-round awesome device. I read too many books and am regularly traveling in places where it’s impossible to buy the physical versions in English for me to use anything else. This is just one of the many viable reasons to buy a Kindle, even if you gravitate towards real books.
The Kindle’s e-ink screen is as good as they come, but it’s still a black and white screen with a low refresh rate, and illustrations and images simply don’t work.
The Kindle Store has some issues, but it’s still the largest ebook store in the world. There’s a lot of self-published work of dubious quality padding out the numbers but, if a book’s available as an ebook, the odds are it’s available for the Kindle.
- A stellar reading device.
- Can hold hundreds of books in one lightweight package.
- Syncs with Kindle Apps on other devices.
- Amazon has the best ebook ecosystem by far.
- Not actually a book.
- Doesn’t smell like a book.
- You’re locked into Amazon’s ecosystem.
- Can only display the colors gray and slightly less gray.
As I mentioned at the top of this article, physical books are the number one way people read even today. They’re basically the Windows XP of reading devices: deeply entrenched, backwards-compatible, and destined to hang around for decades after they’ve been made obsolete.
While I might not personally be a big fan, I can understand why some people prefer them. Reading an actual book is a tactile experience that an e-reader simply cannot replicate. Bookshops are basically what happens when all that is good in the world is compressed into one dusty little store. I read maybe one or two physical books a year but even I can’t walk past a bookshop without being drawn inside to just browse.
As well as the smell, the best thing about books (apparently) is that they’re yours. You’re not just borrowing the content. If you want to lend one to a friend, you’re not also lending your entire library. You can even buy and sell them second-hand.
- Is actually a book.
- Smells like a book.
- Universally available.
- Easy to sell and share.
- Not remotely waterproof.
- Not portable in large numbers.
- People can see you’re reading 50 Shades of Gray on the train.
- Not a Kindle.
The Amazon Kindle isn’t the only e-reader out there. Barnes and Noble has the Nook, and Kobo makes some decent models. However, neither has enjoyed the same market success.
Still, there are a few reasons to consider buying a non-Kindle e-reader. You can get features like waterproofing that Amazon doesn’t offer, or buy something at an even lower price point. You aren’t locked into the Kindle Store and, with many of them, you can load EPUB formatted books that you buy from wherever you want.
- Is an e-reader.
- Plenty of options available to suit different needs.
- Most of the benefits of Kindles.
- Not locked into Amazon’s ecosystem.
- Not a Kindle or a book.
- Generally failing in the market so no guarantee the ecosystem will be around for ever.
- Most of the problems of Kindles.
- No access to Amazon’s ecosystem.
Tablets fall in a weird middle ground. For reading text, their LCD screens aren’t a match for an e-reader, but for any content containing color, they blow them away. With all the different apps available they can use any ebook store — including the Kindle Store. For things like comics, technical documents, and PDFs, they’re by far the best device out there.
While you can read anything you like on a tablet, unless it’s filled with colored diagrams, you won’t have the best experience. The bright screen will strain your eyes, wake your partner, and drain the device’s battery in a matter of hours. Most tablets are also far heavier and harder to hold than an e-reader.
- Can do a lot more than just read books.
- Awesome for anything with pictures, diagrams, or colors other than gray.
- Has access to many different ebook stores.
- You might already have one lying around unused.
- Bright screens suck for reading text.
- Battery life not measured in days.
- Very expensive as a reading device.
- Not a Kindle or a book.
Smartphones, like tablets, are a strange one. In theory, they should be awful. They have almost all the problems of tablets with the added fun of a tiny screen and an even smaller battery.
They do, however, have one massive thing going for them: your phone is always available. Whether you’re sitting in the dentist looking for a distraction or on the train home from work, your phone is with you. The reading experience might suck but the convenience of being able to read anywhere at any time means it can’t be written off. Personally, I prefer to stick to my Instapaper queue, but I can see why some people use them to read books.
- Your phone is always there. Like, literally always there.
- Can handle colors other than dark gray and light gray.
- Has access to many different ebook stores.
- You don’t need to buy a new device.
- Try reading a book when Candy Crush is just a click away.
- Even big phones have a relatively tiny screen.
- Battery life measured in minutes (fine, hours).
- Still not a Kindle or a book.
There have never been more options available for people who like to read. Physical books aren’t going anywhere fast, e-readers have never been better, and even tablets and phones make competent reading devices. Sure, reading a book or an ebook is going to be nicer than squinting at your phone, but as I said in my love letter to e-readers: it’s not about how you read, it’s all about the book itself. In other words, content is king.
So let that be the takeaway. There are lots of ways to read a book — I’ve looked at the pros and cons of the most popular ones today — so just read. Whether you grab a book off the shelf, download one to your Kindle, or even find one online on your iPhone, just read. Read some more. And never stop reading.
How do you like to read books? Do you find one method more enjoyable than others? Are you a diehard paperback fan or a Kindle convert? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!