Can you concentrate on Flaubert when Facebook is only a swipe away, or give your true devotion to Mr. Darcy while Twitter beckons?
People who read e-books on tablets like the iPad are realizing that while a book in print or on a black-and-white Kindle is straightforward and immersive, a tablet offers a menu of distractions that can fragment the reading experience, or stop it in its tracks.
E-mail lurks tantalizingly within reach. Looking up a tricky word or unknown fact in the book is easily accomplished through a quick Google search. And if a book starts to drag, giving up on it to stream a movie over Netflix or scroll through your Twitter feed is only a few taps away.
That adds up to a reading experience that is more like a 21st-century cacophony than a traditional solitary activity. And some of the millions of consumers who have bought tablets and sampled e-books on apps from Amazon, Apple and Barnes & Noble have come away with a conclusion: It’s harder then ever to sit down and focus on reading.
Sales of e-readers surged during the Christmas holiday season, according to a Pew Research Center report, which showed that the number of adults in the United States who owned tablets and e-readers nearly doubled from mid-December to early January.
But there are signs that publishers are cooling on tablets for e-reading. A recent survey by Forrester Research showed that 31 percent of publishers believed iPads and similar tablets were the ideal e-reading platform; one year ago, 46 percent thought so.
“The tablet is like a temptress,” said James McQuivey, the Forrester Research analyst who led the survey. “It’s constantly saying, ‘You could be on YouTube now.’ Or it’s sending constant alerts that pop up, saying you just got an e-mail. Reading itself is trying to compete.”
Indeed, the basic menu for the Kindle Fire offers links to video, apps, the Web, music, newsstand and books, effectively making books (once Amazon’s stock in trade) just another menu option.
Many publishers believe that the market for both print books and black-and-white e-readers is not going away, despite the pull of tablets.
Voracious book buyers were the first people to latch onto e-readers, prizing them for their convenience, portability and features like text zooming that made it easier for older people to read. Now those e-readers are lighter, sleeker and cost less than $100 — even a cheap tablet is more than double the cost — so tech-shy consumers who want a device just for reading books and not much else have little incentive to upgrade.
As long as e-readers remain significantly less expensive than tablets, there may be a market for them for a long time.